The tri-lateral summit now going on in Washington D.C. between the United States, Japan and the Philippines is not only a reaffirmation of commitment between the countries involved in protecting and defending their nations and
their interests but also a marshalling of forces in preparation for what they rightly or wrongly perceived as imminent hostilities against China in relation to the continuing tension and dispute among various claimants in the West Philippine Sea and the issue of Taiwan.

At this juncture perhaps cooler heads should intervene and provide alternative proposals that would bring about a more sedate diplomatic solution instead of the increasing frequency of tit-fortat exchanges now taking place between China and the Philippines as well as the other claimants in the West Philippine Sea, not to mention threat of China invading the Republic of Taiwan. While the Philippines has the right to seek the support of allies in its contentious
relationship with China especially concerning the Spratly islands in the West Philippine Sea it would not hurt for the administration of President Bongbong Marcos to reiterate the offer of a more peaceful solution to the WPS (South China Sea) problem.

It can be recalled that the country has already offered a suggestion for a joint development of the contested islands in the WPS but time and again this has been rebuffed by China, knowing perhaps that the Philippines does not have
any leverage to wrangle the proposal. But that was then, this time with the support of the US and Japan the proposal for a joint development might yet see the light and avoid any possibility of war. To support the idea for a joint development of the resources in the WPS there is this report by the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) back in 2014 which suggested a multilateral joint development that could be negotiated thru the Association of South East
Asian Nations (ASEAN) or the United Nations.

A Joint Development Zone can be established and patterned after the Svalbard Treaty of 1925. That treaty which still remains in force gives Norway sovereign rights over the Spitsbergen archipelago but allows other states to include
Russia, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands and the United States (other claimants over the Spitsbergen islands), to maintain their population centers and exploit the natural resources in the areas they already occupy. The report of CNA then gave the following possible terms for a multilateral joint development zone agreement between China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, over the various islands, islets, shoals and reefs in the WPS, to wit: a.

A non-claimant state would be designated as the administrator (or trustee) over the zone. Indonesia, given its stature in ASEAN, might be suited for doing this, b. All countries that have occupied high-tide features in the zone would be allowed to remain; however, they would replace all military occupiers with civilians. Military equipment would be removed, c. All structures built on fully submerged and low-tide elevations would be dismantled, d. The four parties would mutually agree to not assert territorial claims around any feature except that each occupier would have the right to establish 500-meter safety zones around each island/feature for safety of navigation purposes, e.

The trustee would allow each of the four claimant states to fish anywhere in the disputed area and be the sole licensee of any fishing. Licensing would be based on current FAO standards to ensure sustainment of regional fishing
stocks. Each one of the claimants would be entitled to 25 percent of the catch. f. Mining in the area would also follow the “25 percent” formula. g. Oil and gas prospecting would be licensed by the administrator on a strictly competitive basis. The “25 percent” formula would be applied to any royalties received. h. The administrator (Indonesia) would be the only state permitted to have permanently based military forces in the area, in order to enforce the terms of
the agreement. i.

The United States and EU would provide security guarantees to Indonesia in the event that any of its forces came under attack. J. The agreement would enter into force by agreement among three of the four countries and any outlier’s share would be held in escrow by the administrator. It is not necessary that all the abovementioned terms be
included in the proposed multilateral joint development zone agreement, what is vital is that a step in that direction
(establishing an agreement) should be taken by the concerned states instead of gearing up for more
confrontation and sounding the war drums.

Amianan Balita Ngayon