MANILA: The Philippines’ newly appointed foreign minister pledged on Tuesday to uphold a 2016 ruling by an international tribunal that invalidated most of Beijing’s claims in the contested South China Sea, a week after China sought to strengthen ties with the new Philippine government.
Manila and Beijing have a long-running dispute over the South China Sea, which is claimed by China almost in its entirety.
In 2013, following a standoff, the Philippines lodged a case with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague seeking clarification of its sovereign entitlements under international law.
In 2016, the court ruled in favor of the Philippines, but Beijing rejected the ruling and continued to send fishing vessels, and raise structures in the strategic and resource-rich waterway, part of which is a Philippine exclusive economic zone.
The Philippines has filed hundreds of diplomatic protests against Chinese activity since the 2016 decision.
Marking the sixth anniversary of the award and the 40th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, on which the court decision was based, Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo said that the ruling was “final” and called for the international community to support it.
“These findings are no longer within the reach of denial and rebuttal, and are conclusive as they are indisputable,” he said.
“We firmly reject attempts to undermine it; nay, even erase it from law, history, and our collective memories. At the same time, we welcome the support of a growing list of countries for the award.”
The Philippine foreign minister’s statement comes a week after he hosted his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, who said at the time he was visiting Manila to “open up a new golden era for the bilateral relationship.”
Manalo was appointed earlier this month by new Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who during his presidential campaign committed to continuing a Beijing-friendly direction embraced by his predecessor, former president Rodrigo Duterte, but not at the expense of sovereignty.
He also promised the Southeast Asian country would seek to strengthen ties with the US, which said on Tuesday it would protect the Philippines, its oldest ally in the region, with whom it has a decades-old defense treaty that is seen as a bulwark against China’s growing influence in the region.
In a statement marking the anniversary of the Hague ruling, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the arbitration was final, and called on China to “abide by its obligations under international law and cease its provocative behavior.”
“We will continue to work with allies and partners, as well as regional institutions such as ASEAN, to protect and preserve the rules-based order,” he said. “We also reaffirm that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke US mutual defense commitments.”