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Duterte to UN: Phl’s 2016 arbitral win vs China ‘beyond compromise’

MJ Blancaflor

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This UN handout photo shows Rodrigo Roa Duterte, President, Republic of the Philippines, as he virtually addresses the general debate of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, on 22 September 2020, in New York.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday affirmed before the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) the Philippines’ win against China in a 2016 ruling over the South China Sea, describing it as “beyond compromise.”

The Chief Executive, who was among the first speakers at the UNGA alongside presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, said the Philippines rejects any attempts to undermine the arbitral ruling which spelled out the country’s marine entitlements and junked virtually all of Beijing’s historic claims in the disputed waters.

“The award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon. We firmly reject attempts to undermine it,” Duterte said at the UNGA, considered as the world’s most important diplomatic stage.

“We welcome the increasing number of states that have come in support of the award and what it stands for — the triumph of reason over rashness, of law over disorder, of amity over ambition. This — as it should — is the majesty of the law,” he added.

The 2016 award refuted China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea and ruled that its “historic rights” to the waters were inconsistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Other countries — the United States, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and most recently the United Kingdom, Germany, and France — have invoked the arbitration award in their own complaints about Beijing’s aggressive behavior in the disputed waters.

In his first address before the UNGA, President Duterte also noted that the Philippines’ commitment in the maritime row was in accordance with the 2016 ruling of the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration and the UNCLOS.

He also assured the country’s adherence to the UN Charter and the 1982 Manila Declaration on the Peaceful Settlement of International Disputes.

In a separate speech during the 75th UNGA, China’s Xi assured his country’s commitment to resolve disputes through dialogue and negotiation.

“We will never seek hegemony, expansion, or sphere of influence. We have no intention to fight either a Cold War or a hot war with any country,” said Xi, without mentioning the South China Sea.

China has been heavily-criticized for refusing to recognize the 2016 ruling and its reclamation efforts in the disputed areas for military and research purposes.

Duterte, meanwhile, has set aside in the first three years of his presidency the country’s arbitral award that was pursued by his predecessor Benigno Aquino III.

In October 2019, amid pressure from the public, he went to China and met with Xi to discuss the matter.

He returned quite empty-handed as Xi maintained that his government would not recognize the country’s legal victory.

Instead, Duterte took home with him Xi’s offer of a 60 percent share in the joint oil exploration in the South China Sea if the Philippine government would set aside the arbitral ruling.

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