Duterte in favor of continuing EDCA

Baby E - The Philippine Star
Duterte in favor of continuing EDCA
“I have no problem with EDCA-sanctioned use of Philippine military bases by US troops because we don’t have good external defense capabilities,” incoming president Rodrigo Duterte said in a press briefing Monday night.
Philstar.com File / Efigenio Toledo IV, file

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Incoming president Rodrigo Duterte is in favor of continuing the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States, citing the local military’s limited capabilities.

“I have no problem with EDCA-sanctioned use of Philippine military bases by US troops because we don’t have good external defense capabilities,” Duterte said in a press briefing Monday night.

EDCA, signed on April 28, 2014, allows American forces to set up facilities at Philippine military installations. The Supreme Court upheld its legality in January after several groups tried to block its implementation on the grounds that it would violate Philippine sovereignty and that it was not ratified by the Senate.

The high court ruled that EDCA is a valid executive agreement that the president can enter into under the Constitution.

Some lawmakers, however, believe that Duterte can easily scrap EDCA because it is just an executive agreement, not a treaty approved by the Senate.

Some quarters believe EDCA is in response to China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea.

The US has said it won’t side with any party in the dispute but has repeatedly scored China’s military buildup and expansion in the region.

China has built what are believed to be military structures on Panganiban (Mischief), Zamora (Subi), Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Kennan (Chigua), Mabini (Johnson South), Burgos (Gaven) and Calderon (Cuarteron) Reefs.

Chinese envoy sees improved ties with Phl

In Manila, Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua said relations between the Philippines and China are seen to improve under the administration of Duterte.

“I am confident that the relationship will get better,” Zhao said in an interview on the sidelines of an event at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.

“We are looking forward to working with the incoming president and his team to explore the possibility of returning to bilateral talks over the disputes we have,” he added.

Zhao was among the first diplomats who met with Duterte in Davao City when the latter’s election victory became imminent.

 Asked about the meeting, the Chinese ambassador said their conversation was very good and that they exchanged views on the bilateral relationship between Manila and Beijing.

“My impression is that the president-elect is a very strong man, a man of principle and he’s the type of leader whom we like to work with to improve our bilateral relationship,” Zhao said.

“We’re glad that the president-elect has already opened the door for direct bilateral negotiations and we welcome that,” he added.

Zhao praised Duterte for his concern for Filipinos, saying the incoming president has personally raised the issue of Filipino fishermen being prevented by the Chinese from fishing at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.

“It demonstrates (that) he cares about the poor people, the fishermen. Let me put it in this way: the essence of diplomacy is about the interest of the peoples. I think it is the obligation for governments to engage in diplomacy in such a way that will contribute to the wellbeing of the peoples,” said the diplomat.

Recent reports said the Chinese were no longer harassing Filipino fishermen at Panatag Shoal.

‘Seize the moment’

Asked about possible bilateral talks between the two countries, Zhao said Duterte had publicly stated it would likely happen in the next two years.

But quoting a passage from Mao Zedong, the ambassador said now is the opportunity to improve the relations between the two countries. “I would say two years are too long. Seize the hour, seize the moment,” he said.

Sought for comment on the pending arbitration filed by the Philippines against China before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, Zhao said he has not discussed the matter in detail with Duterte.

“We didn’t discuss that issue in detail but I think we have shared agreement that the issue of South China Sea needs to be properly handled,” he said, stressing it has to be through dialogue rather than confrontation.

He said an invitation to Duterte to visit China would be discussed once the next president assumes office.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said Niger joined the ranks of “over 40 countries that have officially endorsed China’s position” that maritime disputes should be settled through direct negotiations, not international courts as done by Manila.

The South China Sea’s being more than an ocean away from Niger has not stopped the landlocked African nation of 17 million people from adding its voice to a growing diplomatic chorus that Beijing says supports its rejection of an international tribunal hearing on the waters.

Others apparently singing from the same hymn sheet include Togo, Afghanistan and Burundi.

They are among the latest foot soldiers in “a public relations war” by China aimed at questioning international maritime rules, said Ashley Townshend, a research fellow at the United States Studies Center at the University of Sydney.

The tribunal case, brought to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague by the Philippines, is highly technical and hinges on such issues as how international law defines “islands.”

“There will be more and more countries and organizations supporting China,” Hua said.

Similar announcements have become an almost daily ritual at China’s foreign ministry media briefings, as it steels itself for what is widely expected to be an unfavorable ruling by the tribunal that could come within weeks.

Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the whole of the South China Sea, on the basis of a segmented line that first appeared on Chinese maps in the 1940s, pitting it against several neighbors.

But it is also a party to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Manila accuses Beijing of flouting the convention and has called for the tribunal, set up in 1899, to rule on the row.

“By cobbling together a group of nations that share its views, Beijing’s aim is to show that there is a genuine debate over the legality of the Philippines’ legal challenge,” Townshend said.

“It is trying to build a counter-narrative to push back against the mainstream international consensus on maritime law.”

Beijing did not provide a full list of China’s backers on the issue. But other than its main diplomatic partner Russia, few heavy hitters have come out in support, with Beijing’s neighbors – many of them unnerved by its increasingly assertive behavior – notably absent.

Many of those disclosed so far are poor African countries, and Bonnie Glaser, a senior Asia advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, described the names as “mostly composed of smaller, inconsequential nations.”

In some cases the claimed support has been short-lived. Fiji and EU member Slovenia both quickly denied Chinese foreign ministry statements that they were backing Beijing, with Ljubljana saying: “We do not take sides on the issue.”

Zhu Feng, an international relations expert at Peking University, told AFP:  “I don’t really feel that China’s recent public diplomacy activities have been very successful.”

Beijing, he said, “needs to develop its diplomatic activities and fight for more supporting voices.”

But China’s options are limited.

“While China has built odd coalition partners stretching from Russia to Mauritania and Venezuela to Gambia, the Philippines counts on support from the US, Japan, Australia, Britain and others, including respected global bodies like the EU and G7,” Townshend said.

China’s state-owned oil giant CNPC has poured billions of dollars into Niger’s oil industry, which is almost entirely dependent on Chinese enterprises.

It is one of many relationships Beijing has cultivated for such situations, said Deborah Brautigam, of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

“The Chinese provide official development assistance mainly for diplomatic reasons,” she said, adding, “when they need diplomatic support for something... the foreign ministry requests it.”                       

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