MANILA - The United States' intervention in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) is not ideal, but is inevitable and necessary, according to one expert.

For Professor Richard Heydarian, author of "Asia's New Battlefield: US, China and the struggle for Western Pacific," the presence of an external power such as the US can pose a control over China's aggressive reclamation activities in the disputed sea.

"Ideally, there should not be any intervention by external powers. The United States is not a claimant state so ideally, it shouldn't be part of the picture," Heydarian said in an interview on ANC's Headstart.

"But the reality is that there's tremendous amount of power asymmetry between China and neighboring countries. And that has given China an impunity, a carte blanche to do whatever it wants," he added.

Heydarian also said that the US has interests in ensuring that the "artery for global trade" is free of restrictions by asserting the freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight in the South China Sea.

Heydarian added that the Chinese have been imposing restrictions on the movement of aircraft and naval forces in the area, particularly on the Americans, since 2000.

"So in that sense, yes. I believe that the United States' presence is almost inevitable and necessary," the professor said.


While the Philippines has sought the help of an international tribunal over the maritime dispute, Professor Jay Batongbacal said Filipinos should not overestimate the outcome of the arbitration case as a total saving grace even if it favors the Philippine government.

Batongbacal, director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea at the UP Law Center, said the ruling on the case under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) will not remove the Chinese bases but will perhaps provide deterrence against further militarization of the area.

"So the usefulness of the tribunal's judgement is not the fact that there is a judgment per se, but how the countries will then use whatever the judgment contains in their respective dealings with China. So it may be that they can use it as an additional leverage for negotiations. It may be that they can use it as justification for own actions in the pursuit of their own interests," Batongbacal said.

"So it's not the tribunal per se which will in the end save the day or change the equation. It's really how the tribunal's judgement will then be used by the other countries," he added.

Batongbacal said the Philippine government should instead focus more on upgrading its facilities in the disputed area, adding that the country has lagged behind in asserting its claim on the ground as compared to neighboring countries.

"We are really at a very great disadvantage at this point and we are not even maintaining the only possessions that we have. So it really boggles the mind why we should be doing this or actually retreating in a way even while we are so vocal about it, on the ground our actions are actually countering our own interests," Batongbacal said.


Meanwhile, Heydarian said the Philippines must initiate regular high-level talks with China, saying that the relationship between the two countries should not be defined by a single issue.

"Let's not allow the South China Sea, West Philippine Sea dispute define our entire relationship. There is a way for us to have a strong stance in defending our claims but at the same time to know how to find a common ground with China on other issues," Heydarian said.

He said the Philippines has not had a single high-level dialogue with China unlike the other countries which also have disputes with the economic giant.

"At the very least, President Aquino or at least the next president immediately should sign certain hotlines or confidence-building measures because all other countries have been doing that with China," the professor said.