Tuesday February 18, 2020
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US battleship in South China Sea corners China

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Picture courtesy: www. gazettereview.com

By Arka Mondal

With the US, recently, sending a warship to the troubled waters, China came under tremendous pressure over its control in the South China Sea. Another blow to the China’s claim in the maritime region came when an international tribunal ruled that it had jurisdiction in a case brought by the Philippines on maritime dispute case.

China’s artificial island building move is expected to get another jolt with the pro-American countries eyeing the initiative as a security threat to the neighbouring countries as China keeps flexing its naval prowess.

Furthermore, China’s Foreign Ministry declaring that the international tribunal’s ruling was “null and void” drew flak from various global quarters. However, neither the ruling by the tribunal nor the US deploying warship would affect China from asserting control in the sea known to be rich in resources.

It is evident that Beijing is putting a higher priority on its strategic interests than its international reputation.

The Chinese strategy has also threatened its reputation in the global arena at a time when it is vying with the US in the field of economy and military.

The verdict by the international tribunal will bolster the strategies of United States which has undoubtedly failed to curb China from asserting control over 80 per cent of the South China Sea. Welcoming the verdict, the US hoped that Beijing would too accept the final ruling slated to be pronounced next year.

Notably, both China and Philippines consented to the setting up of the tribunal which came into place based on the provision of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. However, after the Philippine case was filed before the tribunal in The Hague in January 2013, China boycotted the proceedings.

The Philippine case contends that China’s massive territorial claims are invalid under the convention. The tribunal on Thursday decided it had jurisdiction in the case.

In a freedom of navigation exercise this week, the US spotted an artificial island which the Philippines claimed that China had illegally set up. The tribunal is also expected to examine the Sino occupation on a number of reefs and shoals.

“The fact that the tribunal did not reject jurisdiction on anything in the case brought by the Philippines, and could end up ruling against it on all these counts, introduces uncertainty and anxiety for China,” Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, was quoted as saying.

Malcolm Cook, senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said that outside of China, many maritime law experts feel the Philippines has a strong case and are skeptical of the legal basis for China’s expansive claims, which it says are rooted in history. China roughly demarcates this vast area on maps with a nine-dash line.

Despite China’s latest legal setback, both Glaser and Cook apprehended that there would be no change in China’s plans.

“The Chinese navy has a very strong interest in gaining greater sea control over the South China Sea and this interest and its pursuit will likely not be affected by tribunal rulings,” Cook said.

In all, six Asian governments have overlapping claims in the South China Sea, straddling some of the world’s busiest sea lanes and in areas with rich fishing grounds and potential undersea oil and gas fields.

China needs to control this area to deter any intervention by the United States. That is why the sea is vital to China’s sovereignty, since most of the countries are US allies.

The sailing of the US guided missile destroyer within 12 nautical miles (22-kilometer) of the reef was one of the boldest steps by the Obama administration which is facing a long-time demand from the Congress to thwart the island-building process by China.

However, the dual development, the verdict from the court and the sending of warship, can compel Beijing to abide by the UN convention. But, probably on the long run, China’s stand on the South China Sea would not change.

(With inputs from TNN)

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New Requirement by U.S. Citizens to Get Visas for Travelling to Philippines Could Hurt Tourism

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Philippines Tourism
A requirement that U.S. citizens get visas for travel in the Philippines would hobble the Southeast Asian country's tourism industry. Pixabay

By Ralph Jennings

A requirement that U.S. citizens get visas for travel in the Philippines would hobble the Southeast Asian country’s tourism industry to ease a pair of high-level political spats, analysts say.

U.S. citizens can enter the beach-studded archipelago now on a visa-free landing stamp, saving time and any application fees before travel.

“If we look at the situation of the Philippines in relation with the U.S., of course the Philippines will lose more with that kind of option (a visa rule) than Americans,” said Maria Ela Atienza, political science professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman “Americans will have other options.”

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said last month via his office’s website that Americans would be required to apply for tourist visas if the United States bars entry by officials from Manila who are linked to the imprisonment of Leila de Lima, a Philippine senator who’s at odds with Duterte.

The visa requirement would dim resentment among Filipinos who believe today’s rules are unfair. Filipinos need $160 visas for the United States but do not always qualify.

Tourism impact

The tit-for-tat would bite into a tourism industry that generated $4.78 billion in the first half of 2019, analysts say, because the United States is the third largest source of arrivals after South Korea and China.

Philippines Elections
An armed police escort of opposition Senator Leila de Lima disembarks from their vehicle as she arrives to vote in the country’s midterm elections Monday, May 13, 2019 in suburban Paranaque, southeast of Manila, Philippines. VOA

Americans asked to spend time and money on a visa could go instead to half a dozen other Southeast Asian countries either visa free or with with a visa payable upon landing.

International tourist arrivals to the Philippines rose by 7.7% to 7.1 million visitors in 2018 over 2017, Philippine Department of Trade and Industry figures show. Of those visitors, 1,587,959 came from South Korea, 1,255,258 from China and 1,034,396 from the United States.

Americans often travel to the Philippines for beach holidays and tours of old Spanish architecture.

Filipino-Americans who still hold Philippine passports could still get back into their old homeland without visas. “It will probably be the tourists (who are affected), American tourists who are not from here,” said Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Metro Manila-based advocacy group Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.

Senator vs. Duterte

A visa requirement would answer the Philippine government’s opposition to a U.S. budget proposal to ban entry to the United States by certain officials linked to the De Lima case.

De Lima, a harsh critic of Duterte, was charged in 2017 with orchestrating a drug-trafficking ring while justice secretary before 2015. Some believe her arrest was politically motivated.

Philippines Boracay
Visitors gather along the beach during sunset in Boracay island, Philippines. VOA

The 2020 U.S. budget contains a provision authorizing the Secretary of State to ban Philippine officials from entry if the U.S. side finds “credible information” that they “have been involved in the wrongful imprisonment” of De Lima.”

“We have explained repeatedly that the subject provision is ineffective given that the Filipino Senator is not wrongfully detained,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said via his office’s website. If the U.S. goes ahead, he said, “This government will require all Americans intending to come to the Philippines to apply and secure a visa before they can enter Philippine territory.”

The U.S. Embassy in Manila did not answer a request last week for comment.

Reciprocity issue

A visa rule for Americans might also set a stage for negotiations on visa rules from both sides, Casiple said. Filipinos must apply for visas to enter the United States and not everyone gets approval.

“I think it will be within the context of renegotiation, not a policy immediately,” he said. “Particularly, it will raise the question of reciprocity.”

Filipinos have historically seen the wealthier United States as a place to find high-paid work and remit money to family back home. Tourist visa applicants pay a $160 fee and must pass a consular interview to be approved. U.S. Department of Homeland Security data show that 5,276 Filipinos overstayed non-immigrant “pleasure” visas in 2018.

Duterte might not act on his threat, some caution.

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“I don’t take Duterte’s visa threats too seriously, as he has a history of just spouting off,” said Sean King, vice president of the Park Strategies political consultancy in New York. “Our countries’ relationship will long outlast Duterte’s reign. We can’t overreact to every little thing he does.”

If the United States hits back, King said, it should avoid hurting an overall U.S.-friendly Filipino public and instead “personally needle Duterte.” (VOA)