‘Diplomacy with China can only go so far’

by Roy Mabasa / May 9, 2016 / Originally posted at Manila Bulletin

When it comes to issues pertaining to international affairs and diplomacy, the next president can only go so far and no further.

According to Professor Renato de Castro of the De La Salle University International Studies Department, the Aquino administration has already set “certain structures” that would constrain the ability of his success to chart a new foreign policy initiative.

Such limitation is reflected on the case lodged by Manila against Beijing before the United Nations-backed Arbitral Tribunal as a result of their South China Sea territorial dispute.

“For example, the tribunal is about to come out with a decision, whatever that decision will be that will tie the new president,” said De Castro.

Also when it comes to the South China Sea issue, the stance of presidential candidates are varied.

According to the holder of the Charles Lui Chi Keung Professorial Chair in China Studies and a US State Department ASEAN Research Fellow, Vice President Jejomar Binay’s approach revert back to bilateralism.

Binay believes that the Philippines should take on a cooperative foreign policy stand that emphasizes constructive engagement without sacrificing sovereign rights, marshall a regional effort to resolve the territorial disputes that adheres to the principle of statesmanship and cultural respect and rebuild an improved bilateral partnership.

“It’s a critique of the present administration but taking a middle of the road approach,” De Castro explained. “Whether it could be implemented is another matter. But it tries to find a middle point, trying to be safe.”

With regards to presidential frontrunner Rodrigo Duterte, the educator pointed out that at first the Davao City mayor said he would rather have bilateral talk with China but later on said he prefers a multilateral approach in dealing with the South China Sea issue.

“Most probably he would have to rely on his foreign policy advisers,” he said. “He must have to make crucial decisions because what the next president would encounter is a major foreign policy crisis that’s happening between the US and China.”

Mar Roxas II’s approach to the dispute, on the other hand, resorts to “internationalizing” the subject and continue to deter any claimant’s possible use of force by accelerating the military modernization program.

“That provides us a degree of leverage in negotiating with China, that’s the path taken by Vietnam,” said De Castro. However, the Chinese are very much aware that Vietnman could back its diplomacy with military capability. “That is something we don’t have,” he stressed.

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