In 12 July 2016, the Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines when it filed for an arbitration hearing over islands China was claiming for its own. The ruling was a landmark victory for the Philippines. A victory for the little man who stood up versus the bully.
However, as soon as Rodrigo Duterte assumed office as the new President of the Philippines, the bully not only came back. This time the bully took over with the blessings of the little man.
Since Duterte became President, China has fast-tracked its expansion programs in the South China Seas. Satellite images show military structures that have been weaponized. An air strip has been constructed. China’s Navy has been aggressively asserting its claims by confronting foreign vessels that pass through the waters.
Countries are growing concerned about China’s growing presence in the South China Seas. One of these countries is Australia.
China is its biggest trading partner but at the same time, Australia is against the militarization of the seas. Australia has also advocated for a rules-based order among countries. Of course, Australia is fully aware that the South Seas generate trillions of US dollars of international trade.
Should China enforce its so-called historical claims over these waters, the flow of international trade will be affected.
In a show of defiance, the navies of Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, India, and Japan have been passing through the zones that have been claimed by China.
The Philippines’ Supreme Court acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio said during a speaking engagement to commemorate the Hague victory that while the Philippines’ own President chose to set aside the ruling, other countries have picked up the cudgels and are enforcing it:
“There is clearly enforcement of a core part of the Award by the world’s naval powers, even if there is inexplicable reluctance on the part of the Duterte administration to enforce the Award.”
Perhaps feeling the heat for his miscalculated decision, Duterte has begun to shift blame toward the previous administration.
In several statements to the press, Duterte maintained the Hague ruling was not handed down during his term. Duterte officially came to assume the Presidency on 30 June 2016.
Next, he accused the administration of his predecessor, Benigno S. Aquino for engaging in back-door talks that allowed China to take over the islands. These claims despite press clippings, videos, and statements of the President openly relinquishing the Hague ruling.
Despite his tough guy image, propensity to use profane language, and sexist behavior, Duterte, who has been known to have strong Communist ties, will again assume the role of the little man. Hiding behind the shadows as the most powerful nations in this generation appear ready to take up the fight against its biggest bully.