Gunboat diplomacy is not for Asean

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    ‘It was a historic undertaking that was scuttled by legal monkey wrenches thrown in by political and geopolitical objectors.’

    THERE is no question that the multifaceted South China Sea territorial and maritime disputes between and amongst seven claimants is taking time to resolve judiciously and fairly. That it is gradually being achieved through dialogue and compromise cannot be doubted.

    The most visible success of the dialogue and compromise is the Philippine-China joint oil and gas exploration deal in the Reed Bank (Recto Bank). This activity features exploration, development and utilization of the multi-billion-dollar energy resources of the area at the 60/40 arrangement in favor of the Philippines. The deal resolved a testy row to the benefit of both parties and set a template for all the other disputes.

    In a recent disclosure, PXP Energy Corp., a unit of Filipino-owned Philex Mining Corp., said it is reviewing two prospects in Service Contract 72 (Recto bank) that have an estimated gas potential of over 5 trillion cubic feet. The company has been preparing all the technical requirements in the Sampaguita gas field, using the latest technology such as the Sampaguita 3D data and broadband pre-stack depth migration.

    As soon as the government lifts the temporary moratorium on exploration in SC 72, the company will be raring to proceed.

    While most of the international media and academic commentaries on the South China Sea disputes highlight China, the reality is that the controversies stem from many other claims. As an example, Malaysia recently submitted novel assertions extending its claim in the South China Sea, and this elicited notes verbale from the Philippines and Vietnam.

    Territorial and economic entitlement and disputes persist in many parts of the world, and they prove most intractable that many countries take the issues as a matter of course. The dispute over Hans Island between Denmark and Canada has become an occasion for an annual flag staking and exchange of Germanic schnapps and Canadian whiskey on the island, with both countries welcoming each other there.

    Over the past two decades, many attempts of more complex cooperation arrangements have been seen with the Philippines leading the innovations. In 2004 the Philippines engaged China in a Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking and later Vietnam was invited to join, thus a tripartite agreement was signed in 2005. It was a historic undertaking that was scuttled by legal monkey wrenches thrown in by political and geopolitical objectors.

    While gains continue to be made in negotiations albeit painstaking and slow, progress and peace continued to move forward. On the regional political facet of the challenge, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) have gained enough progress in the preparation of a regional Code of Conduct in the South China Sea is expected to be perfected and signed by 2022.

    The Philippines is the country coordinator for the Asean-China Dialogue Relations until 2021 and the expressed desire of President Duterte is to complete the Sea Code within his term, a desire that apparently indicates his vision of leaving a legacy of peace and unity for Asean, China and Asia. Not even Vietnam objects to the timetable for the sea code.

    President Duterte believes in the inherent power of diplomacy and negotiations, and this diplomacy is not the “gunboat type” but rather more in line with Asean’s declaration of being a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOFAN) which it adopted as early as 1971.