Analysts say no change expected in US policy on South China Sea

Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 09 2020 07:01 PM | Updated as of Nov 09 2020 10:34 PM

Analysts say no change expected in US policy on South China Sea 1
The Hughes Reef in the South China Sea, as developed by China. Construction on Hughes Reef began in summer 2014. What was once a 380-square-meter concrete platform on stilts has been expanded to a 75,000-square-meter island through dredging and reclamation activity. Photo Credit: CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative / DigitalGlobe (File)

MANILA (UPDATE) - Analysts do not expect a change in US policy on the South China Sea even as the world's superpower has elected a new leader in Democrat Joe Biden for the next four years.

Freedom of navigation operations are expected to continue in the waters being claimed almost entirely by China, as well as the US military's exercises with its Philippine counterpart.

But the Donald Trump and Biden administrations will differ in the approach.

Maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal said the incoming Biden government is expected to consult Southeast Asian states more, with experts from the State Department and Congress expected to have more voice. 

“It will be much more open to coordination and cooperation and consultation. And that’s really what is needed right now, rather than jingoism and cowboy diplomacy by just one man and pulling the rest of the country and pulling the rest of the country with him,” Batongbacal said in an online forum with the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP). 

Biden may raise the human rights issue with the Duterte administration. But the US may already know the approach it should take on the matter.

“Arrangements could be made, informal, but talks over coffee... if we can’t do the more formal ones to at least have the two personalities meet. There is no baggage that Biden carries that Duterte should be worried about. And I think Biden will be careful not to close his options off,” Carl Thayer of Thayer Consultancy said.

It is now up to the Philippines if it will continue with its decision to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US, a pact that has benefited the Philippines, according to Batongbacal, as seen when the Philippines was able to access US help in the Battle of Marawi three years ago.

The Philippines and the US have signed a Mutual Defense Treaty in 1951, on which joint exercises of their armed forces is anchored.

Duterte, who has issues with the US government long before he became President in 2016, decided to terminate early this year the VFA, which was signed in 1998 to govern the conduct of American troops while in the Philippines, after the US visa of his first national police chief, now Sen. Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa, was cancelled.

Dela Rosa implemented Duterte's deadly war on drugs while he was police chief from 2016 until 2018. The US has been critical of the anti-narcotics campaign, which several sectors say disregard human rights.

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