MANILA, Oct 28, 2019, PhilStar. Beijing has long been delaying the passage of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) as it has yet to make a move on Scarborough or Panatag Shoal, retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said Monday, reported The Philipine Star.
Carpio questioned the motive behind China’s earlier declaration that it wants the COC signed by 2022, the same year that President Rodrigo Duterte finishes his term.
“That time, as declared by China now, is sometime in 2022. Why 2022 and not 2019 or 2020?” Carpio said at a forum organized by Stratbase ADR Institute in Makati City.
The retired SC magistrate said that China planned to reclaim Scarborough Shoal in early 2016 when it sent dredgers to the traditional fishing ground off the coast of Zambales province.
Beijing only backed off when then US President Barack Obama warned Chinese President Xi Jinping that Washington would take measures if Beijing reclaims the shoal.
“China has not finished its island-building and will reclaim Scarborough Shoal, a high-tide feature, between now and its signing of the Code of Conduct sometime in 2022,” Carpio said.
Building an air-and-naval base on Scarborough Shoal is part of China’s plan to take full control of the South China Sea and it is only biding its time, he said.
‘Not even token resistance’
Given Duterte’s previous pronouncements that there is nothing he can do to stop China if it builds on Scarborough Shoal, Carpio said the president is “practically flashing the green light” for Beijing to do so.
“This means that President Duterte will not send the Philippine Navy or Air Force to even show a token resistance if China builds on Scarborough Shoal,” Carpio said.
“There will be no occasion for any armed attack by China on Philippine military vessel or aircraft, and thus no possibility for the Philippines to invoke the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty,” he added.
China will have to make its move before Duterte’s term ends in 2022 as it is unsure whether the next administration would adopt a similar policy in the West Philippine Sea.
“After China completes its air-and-naval base on Scarborough Shoal, China will then announce it is ready to sign the Code of Conduct,” the retired SC justice said.
By the time that the ASEAN and China sign the COC, there would be no new island-building within territorial or maritime areas under dispute in the South China Sea but Beijing would have installed structures on Scarborough Shoal by then.
“Unless the Code of Conduct makes an express reservation, this means that all prior reclamations and island building by China will gain de facto recognition by other disputant states,” he said.
In recent years, China had finished building structures on its “big three” islands — Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi Reefs — which are also being claimed by the Philippines.
Beijing continues to reject the July 2016 arbitral ruling of a United Nations-backed tribunal that invalidated its nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea.