Chinese President Xi Jinping, aside from congratulating President-elect Rodrigo Duterte on his victory, slipped in a “let’s talk” message. It’s not known whether or not Xi’s conciliatory tone is related to the ruling to be issued in three months by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on the South China Sea territorial dispute. If Beijing ignores an adverse decision, it would become an international outlaw. China and the Philippines are signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea which has jurisdiction to settle all maritime boundary disputes.

Xi’s softer tone should not be taken seriously. It is, as usual, a case of doublespeak and deception of which the Chinese are masters. His call for talks with the Philippines is difficult to reconcile with China’s renewed claim that the Spratlys and the Paracels belong to China historically. Parts of the Spratlys are under the 200-mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines under UNCLOS. The Paracels grabbed by China is also within Vietnam’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone under UNCLOS’ definition of maritime borders.

Kuala Lumpur, on the other hand, protested a recent incident off Sarawak when a Chinese vessel tried to ram a Malaysian patrol boat. This happened even as China offers an olive branch to the other claimants to parts of the South China Sea. Malaysia has vowed a tougher response if the incident is repeated in Malaysian waters. Filipino fishermen have also been victims of Chinese gunboat diplomacy when they are shooed away with water cannons when fishing near Scarborough Shoal off the coast of Zambales where they have long been making their livelihood.

The United States conducts regular sea patrol and air surveillance flights near the man-made islands where China has built military installations. The US presence is adding to the pressure on China. The US has made clear it would not allow the Chinese to impede the freedom of navigation in international waters. An estimated $5 trillion in commercial cargo pass annually through vital sea lanes in the South China Sea. Beijing, however, is strident in saying that more than safeguarding the freedom of navigation, the US pivot to Asia is aimed to counterbalance a rising China.

Xi’s message released through the Chinese foreign ministry mentioned the need to put back on track the good relations between China and the Philippines.Who started to strain relations, anyway? China encroached on the West Philippine Sea and claimed that Manila escalated tension when it filed a case against China in The Hague arbitration court. The Chinese statement was ambiguous: Would the talks Xi suggested be on a bilateral basis, or multilateral? The Philippines prefers the latter to include other claimants like Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Security in Southeast Asia has become volatile since China claimed 90 percent of the South China Sea, raising concern among countries in the region the second superpower in the world seeks to establish hegemony in this part of the world.

Good news, bad news

Authorities at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport said recently that departing passengers found with bullets in their baggage will no longer be arrested. They will be allowed to board after surrendering the forbidden bullets which some really bring as amulets. A series of arrest and detention of departing passengers who missed their flight raised public uproar forcing Naia transport security officials to back off and rethink their policy. It’s really stupid to think that a single bullet without a gun to fire it from would be used by a terrorist to hijack a plane or blow it to smithereens.

Another good news came with the announcement that the tax exempt ceiling on balikbayan boxes will be raised to P150,000. This was also the result of overseas Filipino workers threatening to stop sending dollar remittances which prop up the Philippine economy. All it needed for government to act was public outrage and citizen action.

But the height of insensitivity was President Aquino’s veto of the P2,000 increase in the Social Security System monthly pension of retired workers. Yet, what did BS Aquino do, 27 days before he is due to step down from office on June 30? He signed a hefty salary increase for SSS officials. BS Aquino’s’s reason for vetoing the pension hike for SSS members was that it would bankrupt the system in the long run. Duh?

The best news? PNoy is leaving after six years of bumbling along “daang matuwid.”

 

Source: The Standard