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South China Sea: New claims from the Philippines over alleged Duterte-Xi deal could play into Beijing's hands, analysts say

South China Sea: New claims from the Philippines over alleged Duterte-Xi deal could play into Beijing's hands, analysts say


He claimed that the deal was reached by former Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and then Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing. Medialdea suggested that this agreement continue under the Duterte administration out of respect for the previous commitment.

This revelation contradicts statements by former Duterte spokesperson Harry Roque, who previously claimed that Manila entered into a gentlemen's agreement with China during Duterte's term.

Ramon Beleno III, chair of the political science and history department at Ateneo De Davao University, said Medialdeas' claims could only benefit Beijing.

My prediction is that China will say, “See, there really is a gentleman's agreement. “No matter who they talk to, it is clear that there is an agreement and that the Philippines has violated it, Beleno said.

They could justify now that this was the reason why the Chinese coast guard used water cannons. This would be China's interpretation. China will say, “See, we were right all along.


Beijing denies Manila's claim that Chinese ships are creating an artificial island in the South China Sea

Beijing denies Manila's claim that Chinese ships are creating an artificial island in the South China Sea

Beleno further suggested that Medialdea's stories could be aimed at protecting Duterte, his political benefactor.

The general feeling right now is really to protect Duterte. But that remains to be seen, unless we hear Gazmin's point of view, he said.

Duterte's former Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana was asked during the hearing whether the supposed 2013 deal was the one the Chinese embassy was referring to. He said he was not informed of such a deal when he took office.

According to the Navy, when I spoke to them, they were simply repairing the sleeping and living areas of the ship so they could live comfortably. The repairs continued until I left in 2022. The repairs only affected a small part of this ship, Lorenzana said.

Manila is currently locked in a growing territorial dispute with Beijing in the South China Sea.

On March 23, three Philippine Navy sailors were injured when Chinese coast guards fired water cannons at their ships while they were escorting a chartered civilian supply ship to the Second Thomas Shoal.

Chinese coast guard ships fire water cannons at a Philippine supply ship as it headed toward the Second Thomas Bank in the South China Sea in March. Photo: Reuters

Medialdea said he had attended two of the official meetings between Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping, and that no gentleman's agreement took place.

Former President Duterte, as a lawyer, knew very well that it was unwise to enter into an agreement, especially a gentlemen's agreement, with the President of the People's Republic of China on issues involving sovereign rights, said Medialdea on the August 2019 meeting between Duterte and XI.

During the meeting, Medialdea said Duterte asserted Philippine rights to the West Philippine Sea based on UNCLOS. [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] and the arbitration decision, after which President Xi declared that they also claimed the area.

The West Philippine Sea is Manila's term for the section of the South China Sea that defines its maritime territory and includes its exclusive economic zone.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III in March 2016. Photo Aquino: AP

But Chester Cabalza, president and founder of the Manila-based International Development and Security Cooperation think tank, blamed Medialdea for dragging the late Aquino into controversy.

The nation must pay tribute to the late President Aquino. He is no longer there to defend himself. President Aquino left a good legacy by filing a case against China as part of the arbitration award that the nation is now reaping following our legal victory, said Cabalza, a research fellow at the US State Department Institutes Americans on national security.

The stability and credibility of our strong speech in the FPS [West Philippine Sea] start with our unified history. Medialdea should shut up and become more responsible for his words, he added.

Cabalza said, however, that China would likely continue to insist on the existence of a gentleman's agreement, whether the alleged agreement actually exists or not.

It is implied that Beijing believes it to be true. But that won't stop Manila from protesting [against] China's aggression and occupation in our maritime rights, he said.

China is known for changing its imaginary borders from nine lines to 10 dashes. This means that China continues to modify its narrative according to its own national interest, he added.




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