Sino-Philippines Relations: Moving beyond South China Sea Dispute?

By Zhao, Hong | The Journal of East Asian Affairs, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Sino-Philippines Relations: Moving beyond South China Sea Dispute?


Zhao, Hong, The Journal of East Asian Affairs


Abstract

The South China Sea dispute has always been a negative factor in the development of China-Philippines relations. Although China-Philippines relations have continued to improve, there is still outright anxiety and concern about the possible regional uncertainties stemming from the rise of China. The degree of wariness toward this major power increased as the tension about the South China Sea heightened. How has the South China Sea dispute affected the Philippines' ties with China, and can their bilateral relations move beyond the South China Sea dispute?

Key Words: Territorial Disputes, South China Sea, Hedging Strategy, Nationalism

INTRODUCTION

Sino-Philippines relations have undergone dramatic changes and reversals in the past four decades. Prior to the normalization of diplomatic ties between the Philippines and the PRC, Manila recognized the Kuomintang government in Taiwan as a close friend and ally, and perceived the PRC to be a security threat. Aside from a domestic security consideration, at that time there was also a perception in the Philippines that China was prepared to use force and actively challenge the regional order. The Philippines began to explore the possibility of opening diplomatic relations with PRC in the early 1970s, and President Marcos established diplomatic relations with China in 1975. After the 1980s, SinoPhilippines relations began to be troubled by some problems including the South China Sea dispute and Taiwan issues. During the period of President Ramos, Sino-Philippines relations deteriorated further. The bilateral ties registered a significant upturn in 2004 when President Arroyo paid a state visit to China, and the two sides established a strategic partnership in the same year. At the same time, economic ties expanded, showing the bilateral relations being at their best since the normalization of bilateral diplomatic relations. However, after President Aquino III took over power in 2010, the Philippines-US relationship has topped his government's policy, and the Sino-Philippines relations went to a low point once again.

This article studies Sino-Philippines relations in the recent decade with a focus on their South China Sea disputes and economic ties, and analyzes how their economic cooperation has been affected. It starts with an analysis on their recent territorial dispute and reasons for their growing aggressiveness in the South China Sea. Theoretical issues including the China threat,1 the Philippines' hedging strategy and regional economic integration will also be examined.

CHINA-PHILIPPINES TERRITORIAL DISPUTE IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA

The last four decades have witnessed an ebb and flow in ChinaPhilippines relations. The dispute over the South China Sea has always been a thorn in bilateral relations. The Philippines was one of several ASEAN claimants to protest China's submission of a "9-dash line" claim to the South China Sea in 2009, and one of the more vocal supporters of U.S. Secretary of State Clinton's defense of maritime security and call for resolution of disputes according to international law at the 2010 ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi.

China based its claim to the islands and other land features in the South China Sea on historical surveying expeditions, fishing activities, and naval patrols as far back as the 15th century.2 Modern Chinese cartographers have included the area shown by the nine-dash line within maps of Chinese territory as early as 1914. 3 The area was included in an official map drawn in 1947 by the Republic of China under the Kuomintang government, and the nine-dash line has continued to be included in official maps published by the People's Republic of China since 1949.

While the Philippines' claim to Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands to China) was first submitted to the United Nations in 1946, its involvement did not begin in earnest until 1956 when Filipino adventurer Tomas Cloma proclaimed the founding of a new state, named Kalayaan. …

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