The Philippines has developed a "three-step" solution plan for the South China Sea dispute with China. Firstly, they will suspend activities that aggravate tensions in the short term. Secondly, in the mid-term, they will complete the Declaration on the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) as soon as possible, and implement it comprehensively and effectively. Finally, they will settle disputes via resolution mechanisms in accordance with international law.
The Philippines are sparing no effort to promote this three-step plan. The Foreign Minister of the Philippines has visited Vietnam, Indonesia and Brunei. Furthermore, the Philippines hoped to formally raise this plan at the Myanmar ASEAN and East Asian Foreign Ministers Meeting in an attempt to win support from other countries in Asia. The Philippines have convinced themselves that their plan is in accordance with the U.S. "freeze" proposal, and will help them to have their way and win approval for their stance on the South China Sea issue.
It is not unusual to make an issue of the South China Sea dispute in foreign ministers meetings. Since Hillary Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State, aggressively stirred up the issue of the South China Sea in a high-profile speech at the 2010 ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Foreign Ministers Meeting, the disputes have become a political pawn for the countries involved. The Philippines took advantage of this opportunity to make the situation worse, resulting in the fact that for the first time ever, ASEAN could not publish a Joint Communiqué. The Philippines was counting on the U.S. to put pressure on China so that they could profit from the dispute. However, they did not win widespread support from other ASEAN member countries.
This time is no different. This new three-step plan did not appear in The Joint Communique of the Myanmar ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Foreign Ministers Meetings, or even in the Joint Declaration on the South China Sea. Compared with the previous declaration, this Joint Communique is the same in its essentials, differing only in minor points. At this point, the Philippines' plan is winning little support from ASEAN countries, although the Philippines claim that it is supported by Vietnam.
The only purpose of the plan is to put pressure on China. It is not constructive, and the Philippines themselves are not adhering to its proposals. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said: "If the Philippines hope to put forward this 'three-step' plan, they need to cancel international arbitrations first and put an end to any activities that aggravate the situation. However, they have skipped to the third step first, which contradicts the proposal."
Most importantly, regional cooperation is still the main priority for ASEAN. Its member countries, including Vietnam, set store by cooperation with China. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi came up with 12 proposals for political regional and oceanic cooperation at foreign ministers meetings, which offer real potential for bilateral cooperationand send a signal to members of ASEAN that it is sensible to promote cooperation rather than create tension.
The Philippines has little to gain from its plan. Reviewing the history of the issue shows that the Philippines took three steps to infringe upon China's sovereignty and its maritime rights in the South China Sea. They illegally appropriated eight islets in the South China Sea. Then they illegally encroached on maritime rights in the "nine-dashed line". They have recently attempted to consolidate their "ownership" of the islets by all means, including international arbitration.
The Philippines plan cannot succeed. The "dual-track" approach proposed by the Chinese Foreign Minister, which calls for the countries involved to resolve their disputes through friendly consultations and negotiation, is much more practical and advisable.
The article is edited and translated from《菲律宾在南海问题上又栽跟头（望海楼）》, source: Peoples Daily Overseas Editon, author: Jia Xiudong