Malacañang has pronounced President Rodrigo Duterte’s latest visit to China an unqualified success, even though he failed to convince President Xi Jinping to recognize the July 12, 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague as binding upon his government. The ruling upholds Philippine sovereign rights within its 200-mile exclusive economic zone in the Spratlys, and finds China’s claims according to the so-called nine-dash line without any legal basis. In 2016, DU30 set aside this ruling and sided with China in rejecting it, but a few days ago he traveled to Beijing purposely to persuade Xi to reverse his three-year-old stand.

DU30 failed. Not only did Xi refuse to be so persuaded, he also called out the European powers—France, Germany, and Britain, who are all state parties to the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea (Unclos)—for asking China to recognize and respect the historic ruling. In an obvious application of Asia’s “Monroe Doctrine,” China’s foreign ministry told the non-Asian powers that China and its regional neighbors were doing everything to advance peace and stability in the region without involving any outsiders. It was not a very subtle call for non-intervention.

This situation will likely not change during the remainder of Xi’s lifetime rule or the DU30 administration. Xi will not rethink the issue, unless perhaps he’s dealing with a new Philippine president, nor will DU30 find the courage to raise it again, unless Xi is succeeded by another president. Yet one must hope DU30 will remain vigilant on such issues as China’s continued naval incursions into Philippine waters, and other incidents that had contributed to the present dismal state of affairs.

This means the two “paramount” leaders should continue talking to each other if they want to calm the troubled South China/West Philippine waters. They should explore every opportunity to find new ways of resolving their territorial and maritime dispute. With China now in control of the disputed real estate, and without any commitment to recognize the UN-backed arbitral ruling, the only way of settling the conflict would be through the International Court of Justice, also at the Hague. This requires the mutual consent of the parties, as Malaysia and Indonesia have demonstrated in their dispute over Ligitan and Sipadan islands, and as Singapore and Malaysia have likewise demonstrated over Pedra Branca.

With China now in control of the disputed territories, it seems unthinkable Beijing would risk going to the World Court. Not even if the four other countries—the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Taiwan—that occupy some of the 750 marine features spread out over 164,000 square miles of blue water that links the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean were to unite in favor of that option.

Not even if the issue were limited to those marine features militarized by the Chinese. These refer to Scarborough Shoal and Mischief Reef.  Mischief is one of the seven reefs in the Spratlys, the others being Kagitingan (known internationally as Fiery Cross), Calderon (Cuarteron), Burgos (Gaven), Mabini (Johnson South), Panganiban (Mischief), Zamora (Subi), and McKennan (Hughes). It is now a full-fledged military garrison, with a five-story fortified cement bunker and three octagonal buildings sitting on stilts.

A battery of anti-aircraft guns protects the structures, which house communication and radar systems for monitoring aircraft and ships in the area, and for guiding ballistic and cruise missiles if needed. Mischief Reef is the first living proof of China’s aggressive stance against the Philippines.

Scarborough on the other hand is the triangular-shaped chain of small islands, rocks and reefs some 600 nautical miles from China and 115 miles from Zambales on the western side of Luzon. It has an area of about 60 square miles, and is fully submerged at high tide except for one land feature, South Rock. It used to be a rich fishing ground for Filipino fishermen. But in April 2012, a flotilla of white-hulled Chinese fishing vessels entered Scarborough to catch live sharks and gather corral and rare endangered species.

When a gray-hulled Philippine Navy ship tried to arrest the Chinese poachers, it was blocked by several white-hulled vessels of the China Marine Surveillance Fleet. A standoff ensued. An exchange of strongly worded protests followed, Chinese hackers launched a series of cyberattacks on key Philippine agencies, China boycotted Philippine exports and banned tourism in the Philippines.

By June that year, the US asked the parties to end the standoff and negotiate a peaceful settlement. The Philippine Navy withdrew, but the Chinese did not. They then blockaded the fishing ground for Filipinos. Then-President B. S. Aquino III compared China’s action to Nazi Germany’s annexation of Czechoslovakia. Eventually the Chinese allowed Filipino fishermen to return, but as one retired admiral puts it, there wasn’t any more fish left for the Filipinos.

In dealing with China, the world has often been quick to excuse its excesses because of its past “century of humiliation” in the hands of foreigners. We hear this on Youtube, even from distinguished academics. To them China has the right to use the artificial islands in the Spratlys as alternative “aircraft carriers” to reinforce Liaoning, its lone aircraft carrier, in any potential face-off with the US Seventh Fleet. It seems a handy argument, but China’s humiliation in the hands of the West has long had its uses; the issue as of now is China’s humiliation of powerless countries like the Philippines.