In his first ever address to the United Nations General Assembly, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte went on the offensive regarding the dispute with China over the South China Sea. He stressed his country’s judicial victory of 2016 when The Hague based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) gave a verdict claiming that China has no legal basis on the Nine-dash line. The nine-dash line is an undefined and vaguely located demarcation line used by China for its claims of a major part of the South China Sea.
Duterte had not earlier addressed the world body in his more than four years in office. In a video address recorded in Manila, Duterte asserted that the Philippines has full rights over parts of the South China Sea that the PCA ruling stated to be within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). He said, “The award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish, or abandon. We firmly reject attempts to undermine it.”
Given his previous stances when Mr. Duterte had downplayed the issue in exchange for Manila’s closer geopolitical and economic bonds with Beijing, his recent statement on the dispute is being seen as the strongest so far. After largely setting aside the issue for years, Mr. Duterte is under growing pressure at home to challenge China. One reason for the rise in tensions is China’s continued extension of artificial islands within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Over the past several years China has developed military installations on several disputed islands and reefs in the entire region. Not only the Philippines, but Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Indonesia also have claims in the disputed waters.