Cartoon by Roni Santiago
Cartoon by Roni Santiago

A decision by the Philippine government to bring its territorial dispute with China to an international tribunal is laudable.

Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. told a recent gathering of Filipinos in Chicago that the Philippines will file soon its territorial claim against China over the Scarborough Shoals in the West Philippine Sea, also known as South China Sea.

The Philippine government is going to file its claim despite China’s earlier warning that it would not participate in the coming hearing to be conducted by an international arbitration body. It had insisted that the dispute should be resolved through bilateral talks.

At the gathering in Chicago, Cusia said Philippine government lawyers have chosen to file a claim, and China doesn’t have to be present at the hearing.

Cuisia said that if China refuses to participate, its non-participation will shorten the process. “We want to proceed with and pursue the code of conduct. And we are not prepared to withdraw our claim.”

He disclosed that “ASEAN is trying to slow down our claim, and we are not willing to do that and we will pursue and participate actively in the discussion on the code of conduct. We want to have good relations (with China). But we cannot allow it to continue to violate our territory.”

He added, “We have tried diplomatic, political means through ASEAN but we are not getting anywhere, and that is why the Philippines is forced to file the claim before an international arbitral body.”

Upon learning of the Philippine move to seek an international verdict on the territorial dispute, China hit the Philippines’ attempt to “cover in a cloak of ‘legality’ its illegal occupation of China’s islands and reefs.”

It called on the Philippines to withdraw all personnel and facilities from the islands that it said Manila was occupying. “The position outlined by China will not change,” the ministry added.

From our standpoint, we do not see a valid reason for China’s rejection of the Philippine move to seek an international decision on the territorial issue.

China talked about “legality,” and yet it chooses not to participate in a process that will look into the question of which country is illegally or legally occupying the disputed islands.

Its non-participation in an international effort to resolve the issue shows it has a weak hand and is afraid to lay its cards on the table.

China knows that the Philippines has all the aces because the islands in question are within the Philippine exclusive economic zone.

The Philippines should not be cowed by China’s bluff and threats and should go ahead with its plan to seek an international decision on the issue. It is the right thing to do.