WeChat QR Code

Home>Events>>News & Events

Opening Remarks at the China-Philippine Think Tank Dialogue

2021-08-28 11:25:52       source:NISCSS

Opening Remarks at the China-Philippine Think Tank Dialogue on Ocean Governance and Maritime Cooperation in the South China Sea


Wu Shicun

Haikou·28 August 2021


Good Morning! I am glad to meet you all today at the China-Philippine Think Tank Dialogue on Ocean Governance and Maritime Cooperation in the South China Sea.


Current situation in the South China Sea

The situation in the South China Sea is evolving from stability to chaos this year due to a combination of factors in the region. New features and trends are emerging.

First, the U.S.-led security multilateralism is taking shape in the South China Sea. Since taking office, the Biden administration keeps saying to the world that it will abandon the unilateralist approach of its predecessorand return to multilateralism as the principlein dealing with global affairs.However, the U.S. “multilateralism”, essentially based on anexclusive club composed of its allies and partner nations, is driven by its own interests such as containing China.

The Biden administration’s multilateralism on the security front is perfectly presented in the South China Sea. Many signs indicate that the United States intends to extend and expand the Quad relaunched in 2017 to the South China Sea, bringing Britain, France and Germany as well assome countriesin the region to put together aNATO in the Indo-Pacific. With their own interests and aspirations, these countries inside and outside the region have followedthe U.S. steps to contain China in the South China Sea.

Second, the U.S. “New Deal” for the South China Seais emerging. Just as the U.S. “one-China policy”on Taiwan exists in name only, its “New Deal” in the South China Sea will also abandon the “neutrality” policy. In addition to reconfiguring and strengthening relations with allies and partners such as the Philippines and Vietnam, the U.S. “New Deal” in the South China Sea focuses on regional military deployment adjustments. Defense Secretary Austin has asserted that the U.S. needs to redeploy its military globally in response to the Chinese threat, stressing that China would not be allowed to gain military advantage. This plan means that the U.S. will start another round of military deployment adjustment after deploying 60 percent of its naval forces to the Asia-Pacific region in 2012 under the Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy. Judging from the current tensions in the U.S.-China military competition, the Pentagon will continue to deploy superior forces to the Indo-Pacific region, including new combat capabilities such as unmanned and intelligent systems. The South China Sea region is expected to be a focus of this military deployment adjustment.

Third, it will be difficult to stop unilateral actions of claimant countries, mainly oil and gas development activities in disputed areas. Offshore oil and gas development in the South China Sea has been a majordriver for economic and social development in claimant countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei since the 1980s, and will underpin their post-Covid economic recovery. Among them, Vietnamand Malaysiahavemade preparations for the next round of unilateral oil and gas activitiesin the disputed area of Block 117/118 in the Xisha Islands and NankangAnsha in the Nansha Islands respectively.

In addition, with the approach of presidential election in the Philippines (only ten months away), China-Philippines relations may suffer some setback after President Duterte leaves office. The Philippines may take some unilateral actions, such as raising the arbitral ruling again, suspending its ongoing negotiations with China on oil and gas cooperation, and creating new disputes, for example, in the waters of Ren’ai Reef, the Huangyan Island and Tiexian Reef.

Fourth, under the shadow of the arbitral ruling, legal struggle is revived once again. In the eyes of the United States, the Philippines, Vietnam and many other countries inside and outside the region, the arbitral award is by no means a “scrap of paper”. Since last year, a number of countries in and out of the region have invoked the arbitral award time and again under the name of “upholding and respecting international law” in an attempt to deny China’s claims. In the battle of diplomatic notes triggered by Malaysia’s submission on the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines in the South China Sea on December 2019, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Indonesia have submitted notes to the UN Secretary-General or issued statements for 11 times, all of which based their main arguments on the arbitral ruling. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and high officials have also stated repeatedly that the arbitral award has becomea milestone in the corpus of international law. This year, as the fifth anniversary of the arbitral award, the United States, the Philippines and some other countries with ulterior motives may seize the opportunity and take new initiatives to hypeup the award, orrevive it in some other ways.

Fifth, the possibility of COC consultations “stillborn” could not be underestimated. Having reached agreement on the framework in 2017 and the single text for consultations in 2018, the parties to the COC consultations have begun the second reading of the text. Having moved on the “fast track” for a while, the COC consultations are facing three new and more serious challenges. First, claimants such as Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia have notably less political will to push for progress in the talks, making it difficult for the parties to build effective consensus. Second, the United States has been moving faster in changing its strategy and tactics to prevent China from dominating the South China Sea issue through the COC consultations. Third, the rise in China’s hard power in the South China Sea has not been accompanied by a rise in its soft power. Anxiety and hostility toward China’s rise has not been mitigated among other coastal states to the South China Sea. Concerns remain on China’s perceived efforts to dominate the making of regional rules through the COC consultations. These three factors combined make it increasingly difficult for China and ASEAN countries to reach final agreement on the COC text. The possibility could not be excluded for stagnated or “stillborn” COC consultations.



First, China and the Philippines should maintain bilateral consultative mechanism (BCM).

Second, the two countries should promote maritime cooperation, particularly in maritime law enforcement and oil and gas exploitation and exploration.

Last but not the least, China and the Philippines should abide by the consensus made by President Xi and Duterte that the two countries’ final settlement towards the South China Sea issues should not be based on the arbitral ruling.