China rejects Hague ruling anew, cites 'agreement' with Duterte to 'close the old chapter'

Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 25 2020 05:57 PM | Updated as of Sep 25 2020 06:15 PM

President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for posterity prior to the start of their bilateral meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on Aug. 29, 2019. Robinson Ninal, Presidential Photo/File

MANILA— China reiterated Friday it does not recognize the 2016 arbitral ruling invalidating its 9-dash line claim over nearly all of the South China Sea— a legal victory that President Rodrigo Duterte invoked in his historic speech before the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday.

The July 2016 decision on the arbitration case by The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration recognized the Philippines' sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone in the resource-rich waters, which China claims in near entirety. 

"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, thanking other countries supporting the ruling.

But in a virtual forum organized by the Association for Philippines-China Understanding Inc. (APCU), Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian cited the "consensus" allegedly reached between Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping to shelve maritime disputes and manage the situation through dialogue and cooperation. 

"China’s position on the so-called arbitral ruling has been very clear: We do not accept and we do not recognize this so-called ruling. It has been agreed by our two presidents that we should close the old chapter and shelve differences," said Huang.

Beijing has continued to ignore the ruling as Duterte sought closer ties with the economic giant for his administration's infrastructure projects. Recently, Duterte also expressed expectation that China would give the Philippines access to the COVID-19 vaccine it was developing.

Huang said that the consensus of both leaders to "put aside" the maritime disputes and manage the situation through bilateral consultations should be "vigorously implemented by both sides" so that the "sound momentum of our relations as guideposts to the way forward will be preserved and enhanced."

Huang said dialogue mechanisms such as the bilateral consultation mechanism (BCM) is "working well to manage differences and explore practical cooperation" and that China is "committed to speed up" consultations on a code of conduct (COC) between ASEAN and China as a way of promoting peace and stability.

Earlier, Professor Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said he believed Beijing's continued and increased aggression in the disputed South China Sea in the past year may be the reason why the President raised the award before the international community.

Huang said external powers should not be allowed to derail Philippine-China relations as he claimed that countries "enjoy freedom of navigation in South China Sea in accordance with international law."

He also dismissed "misleading accusations" over the so-called Chinese "debt trap."

"In fact, there was no any evidence that Chinese projects threaten Philippine security. In fact these projects are contributing to your national building," Huang clarified. 

Critics have said the Philippines has entered into onerous deals with China, with former Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio warning that Beijing could seize natural gas deposits in the Reed Bank (Recto Bank) in the disputed waters if Manila is unable to pay the $62-million Chinese loan for the Chico River Irrigation Loan Agreement.

Carpio is a long-time advocate of the Philippines' sovereignty and a vocal critic of what he calls China's "creeping invasion."