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Say hello to Southeast Asia's New Silk Roads

By       Message Pepe Escobar       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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Reprinted from RT

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It's not only China vs. the US in the South China Sea. Few in the West realize that two completely different, intersecting stories are developing in maritime and mainland Southeast Asia.

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The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague denied China's historic rights to waters in the South China Sea within its nine-dash line; it also ruled that the Spratly Islands are not islands, but "rocks"; thus they cannot generate 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs).

These decisions were taken in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Now comes the real nitty-gritty -- which is a mix of diplomatic ballet and classic Beijing opera.

The framework under which Beijing is ready to negotiate is somewhat detailed here. But the problem at the starting gate is that Beijing stipulates -- as a precondition to any negotiation with the Philippines -- that The Hague's decision should not be discussed. Chinese nationalism has been deeply wounded in The Hague, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) knows it will be very hard to tame it.

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Manila, for its part, faces a constitutional problem. The Filipino constitution rules that the "state shall protect the nation's marine wealth in its exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens." It goes on to say that the state "may enter into co-production, joint venture, or production-sharing agreements with Filipino citizens, or corporations or associations," but "at least 60 percent of whose capital is owned by such citizens." If President Duterte goes against this provision he may be impeached.

Enter the face-saving Asian way of doing business. A graphic example is already at hand; no one so far has urged China to remove people and/or installations from The Hague-coined "low-tide elevations" in the South China Sea.

In practice, Manila will use The Hague's ruling as a sort of road map -- while not insisting Beijing must recognize it. But that implies an extra obstacle: Beijing may still insist on Manila recognizing Chinese sovereignty over a selected bunch of "rocks." Filipino diplomats actually hope this won't be the case. If that happens, we're in business.

The first step in the negotiation should be no sovereignty decision over those "rocks" -- including the highly contentious Scarborough shoal. Just like what happened in the 1940s, when the then Republic of China came up with the "nine-dash line," this should be decided in the future. In the short-term, a deal on fishing within the 12 nautical mile territorial sea around the shoal should be all but inevitable.

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Beijing vows "never to stop" construction in South Sea, says it's lawful http:// on.rt.com/7jn9

3:25 PM - 19 Jul 2016

This means, in practice, that Beijing will not interfere with Filipino fishermen and/or Filipino oil exploration within its EEZ -- while reducing its own workload in those "low-tide elevations." That's a tall order, but doable, because the payback will be increased business.

President Duterte knows as much as the Beijing leadership that China is absolutely essential to the development of Filipino infrastructure.

That will open the way to joint Chinese/Filipino oil exploration. Of course, constitutionally it can't be an equal share, but China can still get a very good deal in terms of production rights. Not to mention the deal can be expanded to international waters beyond those EEZs, involving other players such as Vietnam and Malaysia.

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Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia (more...)

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