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Strengthening Ties: The Future of Netherlands-Philippines Relations in the South China Sea

Date: 11/9/2023


In a significant development for the geopolitical landscape of the South China Sea, the Netherlands has announced its plans to send a warship to patrol the region in cooperation with the Philippines. This decision comes amid escalating tensions between the Philippines and China over territorial disputes in the area, particularly the West Philippine Sea. Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Hanke Gerdina Johannette Bruins Slot unveiled the plan during her visit to the Philippines, marking the first Dutch foreign minister's visit in over three decades.


The move to deploy a Dutch frigate to the South China Sea reflects a growing international concern over the situation in the region. While the Chinese Embassy in Manila has not yet responded to this development, it carries significant implications for the ongoing disputes in the South China Sea.


Strengthening the Philippines' Position


The Netherlands' decision to support the Philippines with the deployment of a warship in the South China Sea signals a strong show of international support. Jan Robert R. Go, an associate professor of political science at the University of the Philippines, noted that such expressions of solidarity strengthen the Philippines' position in the West Philippine Sea, which falls within the country's exclusive economic zone.


Furthermore, this support enhances the Philippines' capacity to assert its claims in the region, especially if the Dutch warships are equipped for military operations. However, it is essential to exercise caution to prevent escalating tensions and avoid violent confrontations.


Joint Patrols and Freedom of Navigation Missions


In the wake of recent incidents, including collisions between Chinese and Filipino vessels at Second Tomas Shoal, the Philippines has expressed its intention to engage in more joint patrols and freedom of navigation missions in the South China Sea. These activities are aimed at upholding international law and protecting their territorial and maritime interests.


Upholding International Law


The Netherlands, along with the Philippines, is committed to upholding the international law of the sea. Dutch Minister Bruins Slot reaffirmed her country's support for the 2016 arbitral ruling by a United Nations-backed tribunal in The Hague, which invalidated China's claim to over 80% of the South China Sea. The ruling found that China had violated the Philippines' sovereign rights within its exclusive economic zone by constructing artificial islands and permitting its citizens to fish in the area. China has chosen to disregard this ruling, and the Philippines continues to seek international support in upholding it.


Expanding Cooperation Beyond Maritime Affairs


The cooperation between the Netherlands and the Philippines extends beyond maritime security. The two countries have discussed plans to enhance trade and investments, address cybersecurity concerns, and combat online child exploitation. Their shared commitment to a rules-based international order forms the foundation of their bilateral relations.


Additionally, both nations have raised the issue of the safety and security of more than 22,000 Filipino seafarers working on Dutch-owned and Dutch-flagged vessels worldwide. This reflects the shared responsibilities of maritime nations in ensuring the well-being of their seafaring communities.


Exploring Economic Opportunities


Economic collaboration is a key aspect of the growing relationship between the Netherlands and the Philippines. Investment deals with Dutch companies involved in agriculture and water management are on the horizon, promising mutual benefits for both nations.


The discussion of the conflict between Israel and the Islamist Hamas militant group highlights the shared commitment to pursuing humanitarian solutions to global issues. The Philippines and the Netherlands are looking to broaden their cooperation, with a focus on enhancing economic engagements and exploring the immense potential for growth.


The partnership between San Miguel Corp. and Dutch company Royal Boskalis Westminster N.V. in the New Manila International Airport project demonstrates the tangible economic outcomes of this relationship.


Dutch support on key water themes


The Philippines, blessed with abundant water resources, is grappling with a pressing issue of water pollution driven by rapid urbanization and industrial development. However, there is hope on the horizon in the form of a collaboration with the Netherlands, a world leader in water management and purification.


This partnership is founded on years of Dutch involvement in the Philippines. At the request of the Philippine Government, the Dutch Risk Reduction Team (DRR-Team) has been actively cooperating on water-related missions since 2013, laying the groundwork for strengthened bilateral cooperation. The Dutch government's Partners for Water Programme has recognized the Philippines as one of its focus countries, focusing on strategic cooperation at a modest scale. This partnership, facilitated by the Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP), has established a network of Dutch organizations keen on the Philippines to foster knowledge exchange and collaboration. In 2018, the Philippines country platform meeting was conducted for the first time, aimed at informing Dutch water sector entities of developments, building effective networks, and serving as a sounding board, with NWP and the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RvO.nl) taking the lead.


The Water Philippines trade fair in Manila in March 2019 showcased the active engagement of Dutch organizations. A select group of companies participated in the event within the Holland Lounge, providing opportunities for networking and understanding different market segments. Moreover, a seminar on wastewater treatment organized by the Dutch Embassy garnered significant participation, illustrating the enthusiasm for Dutch water expertise in the Philippines.


The collaboration between the Netherlands and the Philippines focuses on three key themes: integrated coastal zone management, improving water quality, and safe urban deltas. In the realm of coastal protection, the Dutch water sector is working closely with the Philippines Reclamation Authority, advising on sustainable approaches as part of the coastal protection strategy. This approach takes into account not only hard infrastructure but also the importance of nature and community involvement, particularly in light of the environmental impact of devastating hurricanes. Wetlands International and Partners for Resilience play crucial roles in the coastal protection program.


The focus on improving water quality is a critical need, particularly in addressing drinking water supply challenges. Manila has been grappling with significant drinking water shortages, and the Dutch expertise, notably through VEI, is actively engaged in addressing these challenges in the Philippines.


The safe urban deltas theme is closely tied to the strategic development of the master plan for Manila Bay, a major conurbation inhabited by over 25 million people. The Dutch water sector plays a significant role in enhancing sustainable urban development and finding integrated solutions to the challenges posed by unbridled growth, groundwater extraction, pollution of surface water, and pressure on drinking water quality. Dutch experts, led by Deltares, are working on an assessment framework to support Manila in making more coherent and sustainable decisions.


The collaboration offers abundant market opportunities as significant investments are required, necessitating a coherent, integrated strategy. Moreover, the interconnections between the three themes (integrated coastal zone management, water quality improvement, and safe urban deltas) are mutually reinforcing, providing ample room for specialization within the Dutch water sector. The focus continues to be on scaling up existing projects, such as addressing drinking water supply challenges for remote islands in light of groundwater salinization.


A Bright Future for Bilateral Relations


In conclusion, the Netherlands and the Philippines are poised to strengthen their bilateral ties, particularly in the context of the South China Sea. This collaboration not only enhances the Philippines' position in the region but also promotes the rule of international law. The multifaceted partnership between these two maritime nations extends into economic opportunities and shared values, offering a promising future for their relations in the decades to come. As both countries navigate complex geopolitical waters, they are committed to securing their mutual interests and fostering cooperation for the benefit of their nations and peoples.


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