Palace: Philippines  can set aside unresolved South China Sea issues
While the Philippines is a party to the South China Sea row, President Duterte has refused to follow the United States’ lead in banning trade with Chinese companies that helped build artificial islands in disputed waters, citing the need to finish infrastructure projects.
AFP
Palace: Philippines can set aside unresolved South China Sea issues
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - September 3, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines can “set aside” unresolved issues in the South China Sea and pursue investment projects with Chinese firms since the arbitral ruling has upheld Manila’s sovereign rights over its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Malacañang said yesterday.

While the Philippines is a party to the South China Sea row, President Duterte has refused to follow the United States’ lead in banning trade with Chinese companies that helped build artificial islands in disputed waters, citing the need to finish infrastructure projects.

One of the companies blacklisted by the US is state-run China Communications Construction Co. Ltd. (CCCC), which will handle the development of Sangley Airport in Cavite, a facility close to key Philippine naval and air bases. The P208-billion project seeks to ease airport congestion in Metro Manila.

Despite concerns about the involvement of Chinese firms in vital projects, Malacañang claimed national interest requires that flagship infrastructure projects be completed.

He (Duterte) said that we will pursue the national interest and the national interest dictates that we finish the flagship projects of the Build, Build, Build and therefore he will not follow the footsteps of the Americans. He will respect the contracts that we have entered into with Chinese companies,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque told CNN Philippines.

Asked whether banning business with Chinese firms would send a signal that the Philippines is not condoning China’s island-building in contested waters, Roque said an arbitral court has ruled against such activities.

“Well you know, there is already a decision there that the Philippines has sovereign rights where they built the artificial islands and that means that whoever built those artificial islands had no legal basis to do; and we’re satisfied with the decision,” Roque said.

“For as long as that decision stands, we can proceed forward on matters that we think we can push on such as trade and investment and meanwhile set aside matters that we cannot resolve perhaps in our lifetime,” he added.

Roque said the government is satisfied with the arbitral ruling which stated that “only the Philippines could have built those artificial islands because they form part of (our) exclusive economic zone.”

China has built artificial islands on Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Panganiban (Mischief), Zamora (Subi), Burgos (Gaven), Kennan (Hughes), Mabini (Johnson South) and Calderon (Cuarteron) Reefs, areas located off the province of Palawan that are also being claimed by the Philippines.

In 2016, a Hague-based arbitral tribunal voided China’s maritime claim in the South China Sea and upheld the Philippines’ sovereign rights over its 200-nautical mile EEZ. China has refused to recognize the ruling, calling it “illegal” and “a mere piece of paper.”

Critics have accused Duterte of selling out the Philippines’ rights in the South China Sea in exchange for China-funded projects and military aid. Officials have denied this, saying the President won’t give up even an inch of the country’s territory to foreign powers.

During his fifth State of the Nation Address last July, Duterte, who has distanced himself from the US and has been seeking warmer ties with China, admitted he could not do much when it comes to the maritime row.

“So what can we do? We have to go to war and I cannot afford it. Maybe some other president can but I cannot. Inutil ako diyan, sabihin ko sa inyo,” he said, admitting he was really useless on that issue.

Locsin backtracks

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. backtracked yesterday after earlier recommending the termination of contracts with Chinese companies involved in South China Sea reclamation, agreeing with President Duterte that the matter was a sovereign choice.

“President is right: a sovereign choice,” Locsin said in a post on his Twitter account.

He warned that the Philippines could be sued if it will not honor contracts.

“Also if we break a contract we get sued abroad. Happened even with anomalous North Rail contract. We lost the case I believe,” Locsin said. “At best we can adopt prospectively but I wouldn’t encourage it. PLDT & Globe rely on Huawei – the best yet cheap.

“He’s right. Few if any countries adopted the US sanctions. And it is a sovereign choice. I worry about when it gets around to Huawei which in experts’ view is the best at what it makes and sells. I use iPhone only because I am severely tech challenged. Earth globe americas & PLDT are 100% Huawei,” he tweeted.

In an interview on CNN Philippines last week, Locsin said he would strongly recommend the termination of government contracts with Chinese companies responsible for reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea.

China’s top diplomat in the Philippines announced Tuesday that all Chinese projects in the country will “continue” despite the United States blacklisting of predatory China state-owned enterprises responsible and central to the militarization and coercion in the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, Lucio Tan’s MacroAsia Corp. and its Chinese partner will need more time to complete their post qualification requirements for the Sangley Point International Airport (SPIA) project as they seek another extension.

“They asked me for a three-week extension,” Cavite Gov. Jonvic Remulla told The STAR a mobile message yesterday, referring to the consortium of MacroAsia and state-owned China Communications Construction Co. Ltd. (CCCC).

The MacroAsia-CCCC consortium has until Sept. 9 to complete the submission of their post- qualification requirements for the SPIA project, after being given a fresh three-month extension last June.

It has already failed to meet its deadline for the second time last June 11 due to challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. – Pia Lee-Brago, Richmond Mercurio

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