Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who visited China, have agreed to resume bilateral negotiations on solving territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Fears are being raised that a ruling on a territorial dispute made at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in July, which dismissed China's claims in favor of the Philippines, could be shelved as a result.
There is a view within the U.S. media that this is a diplomatic victory for China. But tension in the South China Sea has emerged because of China's hard-line penetration into these waters, with the construction of artificial islands and other such actions. Unless China changes its ways, then the friendly mood will likely be only temporary.
China was the first country outside of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that Duterte chose to visit. China treated him to a top welcome as a state guest, and 13 agreements on issues ranging from trade to investment, farming, tourism and maritime security were signed.
In the wake of the ruling at the Permanent Court of Arbitration -- aptly described as a complete defeat for China -- Beijing has faced a diplomatic tussle, with countries including Japan and the United States pressuring it to accept the decision. If the Philippines, which was the plaintiff in the case, accedes to dialogue, it could serve as an excuse for refusing intervention from countries outside of the area. This is probably the reason for his warm welcome.
From a different angle, Duterte has been criticized by the United Nations, United States and countries in Europe, which say he has ignored legal procedures to kill many drug offenders. He may have viewed China, which has expressed clear support for the crackdown on drugs, as a helping hand in time of need.
One can understand that it is important for the Philippines to strengthen its economic relationship with China. A group from the business world that accompanied Duterte to China is expected to form deals worth more than 1 trillion yen. One could say that the Philippines used the arbitration court ruling to secure practical benefits, but there are doubts about whether this will lead to a long-term, stable relationship.
No matter how much of a friendly mood is acted out, it appears to international society that it's a deal in which China is turning a blind eye to human rights violations in exchange for the Philippines avoiding mention of the arbitration court ruling. Yet the rule of law has universal value. It is not something to be placed to the side.
That said, a change has been seen in China, which called the court of arbitration decision "waste paper." After the ruling, it expressed a positive view toward establishing a code of conduct for the South China Sea, and it stopped strongly underscoring the "nine-dash line" it had promoted as a basis for its historical maritime interests.
Was this more cautious approach a way to get the upper hand in diplomatic battles? Or is it based on China's reflection of its South China Sea policies to date? China's future actions will serve as material to answer the question.
It has been reported that China is moving to build an artificial island on Scarborough Shoal (called "Huangyan Dao" in China), which China effectively controls though it is located within the Philippine's exclusive economic zone. The key will lie in whether China halts new landfill work and militarization in the area.
During an address in China, Duterte announced his "separation" from the United States. Will his security policies stand without the backing of the United States? The issue relates to all of East Asia. Duterte is scheduled to visit Japan from Oct. 25, and Tokyo should search out his real intentions.