As expected, and perhaps contrary to the expectations of government detractors, the historic bilateral meeting between Chinese leader Xi Jin Ping and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte did not achieve the result they wanted: that China miraculously abandon its nine dash line in the South China Sea after waving a copy of the 2016 arbitral ruling penned in the west.
Instead, China rejected the ruling, leaving us to simply agree to disagree on the matter.
Politically speaking, now that President Duterte has raised the arbitral ruling to China, those calling him out on his policy on China will have less ammunition against him. It was easier to pillage him then when they accused him of simply evading China. They will have to recalibrate their offensives. How to do that will be a more formidable challenge.
From a diplomatic standpoint, the frank discussion will now give the Philippines room to exercise a more mature brand of diplomacy that allows it wider latitude to broaden the scope of relations and thus, increasing available options despite the presence of concerns and irritants.
"Agreeing to disagree" for example, will create a new set of arrangements meant to contain any conflict that will threaten other aspects of the bilateral relationship that both countries, and all other claimaints will strive to protect. The current military build up under Duterte with the purchase of two brand new missile frigates and ships put flesh to a possible new level of assertion that can enforce the modus vivendi between the Philippines and other claimants.
Conversely, it is poor diplomacy to focus on the one irritant that destroys the other common areas of cooperation. This was the old diplomatic doctrine of the previous government. It led to more animosity. Who benefitted from that? Back then our naval capability was pitiful.
Moving forward, all sides of the disputed waters, including the other countries with claims against the Philippines over these waters, including Taiwan and Malaysia will have to temper rhetoric and instead pursue mutual cooperation. This will be the basis of a new code of conduct that ASEAN desires- a situation that will favor higher trade.
The fact is that China and Hongkong combined is the Philippines largrest trading partner, and ASEAN is China`s third largest trading partner.
Both these relationships may grow as the Trump trade war seems to worsen. Chinese companies will move offshore to escape tarriffs. Southeast Asia is a likely beneficiary.
As we move forward, the fact is that real diplomacy lies in the ability to maintain, sustain and enhance mutually beneficial relations despite possible irritants and capitalizing on recent trends. The situation in the South China seems to show us that.