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Opinion

EDITORIAL - Don't rub it in. Talk. Allow China to save face.

The Freeman

The Philippines has won a tremendous and convincing victory over China in their dispute over maritime rights in the South China Sea. The unanimous decision rendered by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea bestows on the Philippines both legal and moral ascendancy over China's usurpation of up to 90 percent of the entire South China Sea under its 9-dash line doctrine, which the Tribunal refused to recognize.

But that is as far as our victory goes. The Tribunal has no power to enforce its decision. And the Philippines does not have the might to assert what is now clearly its right. At best, we can now look China in the eye without having to do or say anything else. And China can do or say anything it wants in response and never have the convincing power of both honor and pride in it.

So what do we do now? We do what is best for us under the circumstances. We do not rub it in. We should talk to China. We should allow it to save face. In fact now is the time to test the real mettle of President Duterte as leader of the nation. As chief architect of the nation's foreign policy, the wheel is now in his hands. It is now up to him how to navigate the tricky waters.

Duterte, though, has one thing in his favor. The decision of the Tribunal has cleared a path for him to steer through safely. It has defined the parameters of what its decision meant. From having nothing but anger and frustration at our previous helplessness, the Philippine president now has the luxury of a bargaining chip that can promote our interests without really having to add insult to the injury done the Chinese by the Tribunal's decision.

Indeed it was fortuitous for the president not to have upped the ante in the days prior to the handing down of the decision with inflammatory language the kind of which he is notorious for. While there is no stopping ordinary Filipinos from celebrating and even perhaps giving the finger to China, it is important and necessary for official Philippine government reaction to remain level, matter of factly, and even conciliatory.

Prior to the decision, everyone has been so angered by the frequent displays of Chinese military might, forgetting the fact that China's might is not only in its military. It has other options it can use as well, options for which we too have no answer and against which we are at a clear disadvantage. So, if ever we need to have a win-win solution, the last thing we need to do is antagonize China at this point in its embarrassment.

It is not clear how Duterte will proceed from here. But sometimes it is always good to trust in a rough and tumble guy. They can take it on the chin and know how to pick it up. They can walk the talk but they also know when to extend a hand. And when they do, you know they are sincere. They are people who know respect from earning it.

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