Asia St: “The Philippines’ Quest for South China Sea Justice in Perspective.”

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The Philippines’ Quest for South China Sea Justice in Perspective.

September 16, 2020

On September 16, BGA co-hosted a virtual event with the Stratbase Albert Del Rosario Institute (ADRi), an independent international and strategic research organization, on China’s role in Southeast Asia tied to the launch of a new book on the subject by Head of Research Murray Hiebert. The event, moderated by BGA Philippines Managing Director Dindo Manhit, featured remarks by BGA President and CEO Ernie Bower, keynote remarks by former Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, and insights from some leading Philippine thinkers: Justice Antonio Carpio, Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales, Renato de Castro and Richard Heydarian.

In his keynote address, Del Rosario, who was instrumental in the Philippines’ historic South China Sea arbitral tribunal case against China, framed the importance of Manila’s efforts in a wider regional and global perspective given Beijing’s recent maritime assertiveness, noting that the “quest for justice will shape our world and our country’s role in it.” He also added that it was important for the Philippines to reject the notion of “might makes right” not just for its own sake but for other middle and small powers in the world.

Both Bower and Manhit noted the strategic importance of Southeast Asia for its own sake as well as for both China and the United States, bringing with it their share of opportunities and challenges. Manhit also subsequently elaborated on his views in a column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, where he noted that the chief challenge that China’s rise poses for the Philippines and Indo-Pacific states is that Beijing’s greater power has in turn resulted in growing ambitions and positioning itself as a global leader and a shaper of the international order, at times to the detriment of these countries’ interests. “[Its] rise is far from ‘peaceful,’ with its questionable economic initiatives and aggression in the West Philippine Sea,” Manhit wrote.

In his remarks, Hiebert, who has been on a virtual book tour across Indo-Pacific capitals, highlighted the Philippines as a particular case where while China’s quest for influence is far from new, Beijing is using “its full toolbox” across realms – political, economic, and societal – to increase its influence quickly. But he also added that the administration of Rodrigo Duterte had illustrated the limits of Beijing’s influence in the Philippines as well, since some of the deals initially reached had either not taken off due to legal obstacles or not really produced much value for Manila.