The Philippines is likely to opt for a “soft landing” following Tuesday’s rulings by an international tribunal on a territorial row in the South China Sea, analysts say, adding the country’s new president, Rodrigo Duterte, could seek economic concessions from China in order to resolve it. Both China and the Philippines had recently shown a willingness to resume talks and strike a compromise in solving their maritime disputes, Chinese and Philippine observers said. He will not use the arbitration to embarrass China internationally and portray China as an outlaw Richard Javad Heydarian, De La Salle University Relations between the two countries have been at a low point in recent years, after the Philippines brought a case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2013 opposing China’s territorial claims. China, which claims most of the maritime features in the South China Sea, has refused to participate in or recognise the case. Duterte has made conciliatory remarks on several times occasions ahead of the ruling. “If it’s favourable to us, let’s talk,” he said in a speech at a Philippine Air Force function on July 5, adding that the Philippines was “not prepared to go to war”. Chinese ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua was among the first group of foreign envoys to be received by Duterte after he took office. The two have at least met five times since Duterte was elected in May. Multimedia special: 70 years of construction, conflict and combat on the South China Sea “Duterte will make sure that the ruling will not lead to an escalation of conflict ... he will not use the arbitration to embarrass China internationally and portray China as an outlaw,” said Richard Javad Heydarian, a political scientist at Manila’s De La Salle University. Instead, the Philippine leader was likely to release a much more moderate statement and use the arbitral tribunal’s rulings to extract concessions from China, said Heydarian, who previously served as a policy adviser at the Philippine House of Representatives. Who is the real Duterte? A loose cannon, or calm and calculated politician Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay has rejected suggestions he issue a strong statement against China if the decision went Manila’s way. He also said the country was willing to share natural resources with Beijing in the South China Sea area even if it wins the tribunal case next week and that the Philippines will seek to launch talks with China “as soon as possible”. Shen Shishun, a Southeast Asian studies expert at the China Institute of International Studies, said the Philippine leadership transition and the impending rulings had offered a chance for the two countries to mend ties and resume talks. “Arbitration cannot solve the disputes,” he said. “The Philippines will still need to talk to China after the ruling.” President Xi Jinping sent a message to Duterte on June 30, congratulating him on his inauguration and saying he was willing to make joint efforts to improve ties between the two nations. In a sign of early concessions, China has reportedly given Philippine fishermen access to the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Duterte’s domestic reform agenda is likely to see him seek economic cooperation with China, rather than confronting the world’s second-largest economy. “We know that there is one country that can help the Philippines in rebuilding its economy rapidly and efficiently,” Heydarian said. ‘Are you with us?’: Philippines’ Duterte seeks US assurance in South China Sea feud with Beijing The new Philippine administration would also ask China to put a halt to its expansion of military facilities in the region and request that it not impose an air defence identification zone in the disputed waters, he added. Duterte met Beijing’s ambassador to the Philippines before his inauguration, with the two men discussing the possibility of China building railway lines in the Philippines. Duterte has offered to agree to joint exploration for resources in the disputed waters in exchange for China’s support in building three major railway systems across the country. The Philippines saw its fastest economic growth in four decades under Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino, with annual gross domestic product growth since 2010 averaging 6.2 per cent. But its infrastructure has not developed fast enough, with commuters having to battle traffic gridlock when commuting in Manila and other cities. Growing income inequality, a lack of job growth and a failure to make inroads on corruption have been other major criticisms levelled against the previous administration. Nicknamed “the punisher” after his crime-busting achievements as mayor of Davao City, Duterte has labelled the country’s poor infrastructure a barrier to development and vowed to make improving it a top priority of his administration. Ashley Townshend, a research fellow with the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, said it was too early to predict how Duterte might engage China after the tribunal hands down its rulings. “Duterte has released mixed messages ... he appears to be more open to talks with China than his predecessor,” Townshend said. “But he has also said that he will take a firm stance and will not ignore or downplay the ruling. “We don’t have reference of his past performance [as a president] to determine how he might respond.” Townshend said “a diplomatic war of words” was inevitable in the aftermath of the rulings as it had become politically impossible for either country to drastically change its position. But behind the scenes, he said, the two countries would have to develop private communication channels. China eases off Philippine fishing boats in overture to incoming president Duterte Heydarian said it would be a testing time for Duterte’s foreign policy acumen as he was “facing tremendous amount of pressure from all directions”. The Philippines’ allies, such as the United States and Japan, had been putting pressure on Duterte to make a strong statement, he said, while nationalist sentiment at home was still running high. But the new president’s popularity and majority support from the congress meant he had enough political capital and bargaining power to pull off a “soft-landing”. Townshend said China clearly still had a degree of economic leverage over the Philippines. “The question is how much is China prepared to use this leverage to open up new fronts in resolving the South China Sea disputes,” he said. Philippine government indicates it would be willing to share South China Sea resources with Beijing The US and Japan have been major trading partners of the Philippines. But trade with China has been catching up in recent years, with China the country’s second-biggest trading partner, main source of imports and third biggest export market last year. In moving forward, Heydarian said the two countries could form a conciliation commission - listed under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as a measure for reconciliation. Such a commission would be formed under mutual consensus, and it would only give advisory opinion on ways to resolve conflicts and not advise on sovereignty. “This way, both of them can show their commitment to international law,” Heydarian said. But Jin Yongming, an international law expert at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said China would not accept any discussions based on the tribunal’s rulings. “It depends on the topics to be covered in the conciliation commission,” he said. Third-party participation in a conciliation commission was “theoretically acceptable”, Jin said, but it could not be an “extra-regional” country such as the US, and it would be difficult for China to be sure such a third-party was unbiased.