Asia Pacific

China urges Philippines to copy Malaysia's handling of South China Sea issue


The Philippines should emulate Malaysia and resolve its territorial disputes with China over the South China Sea in an “amicable way” instead of resorting to “confrontation” through “unilateral arbitration,” Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia Huang Huikang said Monday.

In an opinion piece titled “The Way of Amicable Consultations” that appeared in Monday’s edition of The Star English-language daily, the envoy said while the Malaysia-China relationship is “at the best time of history,” the Philippines-China relationship is experiencing “severe difficulties.”

“The reason behind such striking contrast lies in the different ways the two claimants chose to deal with the disputes with China,” Huang said.

He praised Malaysia for its “friendly and proper handling” of its disputes with China, unlike outgoing Philippine President Benigno Aquino, whom he said “misjudged the international situation, acted as a pawn of an outsider’s geopolitical strategy and chose to confront China.”

“He (Aquino) became world famous as the arbitration case is a farce,” Huang wrote, referring to a pending arbitration case brought by the Philippines before an arbitration court in The Hague.

“When his term ends, apart from the severe consequences of undermining the China-Philippines traditional friendship, his political legacy will only be piles of bills from the tribunal,” he added.

China’s aggressive expansion in the South China Sea in recent years has raised alarm among claimant states like Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, and Taiwan. This has pushed the smaller nations to embrace the Washington’s pivot to the region to counter China’s weight, resulting in heightened confrontation between the two superpowers.

Malaysia, which counts China as its largest trading partner, a fact Huang noted in his article, has opted for quiet diplomacy. In contrast, the Philippines filed its case with the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in 2013, questioning China’s occupation of Scarborough Shoal which the Philippines claimed lies within its territory.

The court is expected to make a final decision in the next few weeks at the earliest.

Huang said Malaysia has set a “model of amicable consultation” for the region, and as a result of the good relations, Malaysia is China’s biggest trading partner among the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations over the past eight years, with bilateral trade volume reaching $100 billion.

“Compared with the breadth, depth and warmth of the friendly interaction between China and Malaysia, shouldn’t the Philippines introspect itself?” he asked. “As a Chinese old saying goes, ‘Close neighbors are more important than remote relatives.’ Forces outside the region may come and go whenever they want but China and Philippines are neighbors that cannot move away from each other.”

Huang said China is committed to resolving the disputes through peaceful negotiation bilaterally and with ASEAN through a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.