Bei­jing-Manila rap­port sets in­spir­ing ex­am­ple

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

There may be no bet­ter ex­am­ple of the Chi­nese diplo­matic say­ing “Har­mony ben­e­fits both, while con­fronta­tion hurts” than the China-Philip­pines re­la­tion­ship. Just a year ago, when Benigno Aquino III was the Philip­pine leader, Bei­jing and Manila were locked in con­fronta­tion fol­low­ing the South China Sea ar­bi­tra­tion uni­lat­er­ally ini­ti­ated by the Philip­pines. Who at that time could have an­tic­i­pated the “all-round re­ver­sal” in the two coun­tries’ re­la­tion­ship hailed by vis­it­ing Chi­nese For­eign Min­is­ter Wang Yi in Manila on Tues­day?

As Wang re­marked, in a lit­tle more than six months, ex­changes in “all fields have been re­stored in an all-round man­ner”.

And the rap­port is not just rhetoric. Judg­ing from Wang’s ex­changes with Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte as well as his Philip­pine coun­ter­part, For­eign Af­fairs Sec­re­tary Alan Peter Cayetano, it looks likely Bei­jing and Manila may start se­ri­ous talks about a 1986 agree­ment be­tween then Chi­nese leader Deng Xiaop­ing and Philip­pine Vice-Pres­i­dent Sal­vador Lau­rel for the two coun­tries to jointly ex­ploit re­sources in the South China Sea.

If that step is fi­nally taken, it will not only be the re­al­iza­tion of the 31-year-old pro­posal, it will also be an in­spir­ing ex­am­ple for all claimant coun­tries of how to han­dle their dis­putes in the South China Sea.

As Wang said, shelv­ing dis­putes and en­gag­ing in col­lab­o­ra­tion is a far bet­ter op­tion than tak­ing uni­lat­eral ac­tions and be­com­ing stranded in dam­ag­ing con­fronta­tion.

In sharp con­trast to when Aquino III was pres­i­dent and the tense stand­off he sparked froze trade ties, Duterte’s diplo­matic prag­ma­tism is lay­ing a solid foun­da­tion for con­struc­tive ties, which will surely re­sult in tan­gi­ble re­wards.

The Chi­nese for­eign min­is­ter is now re­fer­ring to Manila as “an in­dis­pens­able, im­por­tant part­ner” for build­ing the 21st Cen­tury Mar­itime Silk Road, stat­ing the Belt and Road will be a high­light of their next-step co­op­er­a­tion. The ini­tia­tive’s heavy in­put in in­ter­con­nec­tiv­ity may be a tremen­dous boost for the in­fra­struc­ture-hun­gry Philip­pine econ­omy.

Vow­ing China will be “the most sin­cere and en­dur­ing part­ner” of the Philip­pines for its na­tional de­vel­op­ment, Wang also promised strong Chi­nese sup­port for the lat­ter in do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional af­fairs, in­clud­ing its cru­sade against drugs and ter­ror­ism.

The dra­matic re­ver­sal in the China-Philip­pine re­la­tion­ship has proved Bei­jing’s pro­claimed be­lief that the claimants in the South China Sea dis­putes are fully ca­pa­ble of han­dling their dis­agree­ments on their own. Yet at­tempts by third par­ties to muddy the wa­ters have never stopped. And it may not be re­al­is­tic to ex­pect those claimant coun­tries to demon­strate sol­i­dar­ity in the face of pow­er­ful out­sider in­ter­ven­tion and say no to it.

Manila’s rap­port with Bei­jing, how­ever, will cer­tainly be con­ducive to man­ag­ing the other un­re­solved dis­putes in the wa­ters.

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