By Daniel Llanto

The Philippines is voting for China’s candidate to the UN judicial arm International Court of Justice (ICJ) notwithstanding the differences between the two countries over China’s intrusion into the West Philippine Sea portion of the South China Sea.

Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr. tweeted the instruction to the Philippine Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York to vote for the Chinese candidate.  In the tweet, Locsin said “and remember no quid pro quo. We don’t trade on such important matters.”

Also known as the World Court, the ICJ is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. The Court’s role is to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by states and to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized UN organs and specialized agencies.

Composed of 15 independent and impartial judges, the ICJ’s rulings and opinions carry a high level of authority. The ICJ differs from judicial bodies specializing in specific areas and is the only international judicial organization of a universal character with general jurisdiction.

The ICJ is the highest United Nations court for inter-state disputes with the 15 judges elected to nine-year terms by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. But the judges are eligible for re-election.

This only pleased China which said its relations with the Philippines have been moving forward and ushering in the new golden age under the leadership of President Duterte and President Xi Jinping.

The move has the apparent blessing of Malacañang. Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said it becomes further manifestation of the “very close relationship between the Philippines and China.”

Roque said instructions were also given to vote as well for the candidates of Japan and Germany.

A UN document dated June 29, revealed the Philippines nominated Japanese Judge Yuji Iwasawa. But this time the Philippines is voting for Chinese Judge Xue.

Roque said the Philippines can support more than one candidate at the November 11 election as there will be five vacancies.

This as China continues to claim waters in the South China Sea, saying it belongs to China and its actions are lawful. A 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague invalidated China’s sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea.

Also, despite alleged intellectual property violations by China, the Philippines  voted in March for a Chinese candidate in the election of a director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization.

Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan took a swipe at Locsin for backing the candidate from China, instead of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bet from Singapore.

Locsin defended his choice as he turned to some ASEAN members, saying they were not supportive of the Philippines during the Iceland-backed resolution calling for an inquiry into the drug-related killings in the country.

Since coming to power in 2016, President Duterte has pursued better relations with Beijing despite its intrusions into Philippine territory and its bullying of Filipino fishermen in West Philippine Sea considered traditional fishing grounds.

Four of the eight candidates contesting the five positions are incumbent judges whose nine-year terms are due to expire on February 5 next year. One of the four is Chinese Judge Xue Hanqin, who is also the vice-president of the ICJ.

“Judge Xue, who is already a sitting ICJ judge, is also a further manifestation of the very close relationship between the Philippines and China,” Roque said.  Xue is among the founders of the Asian Society of International Law, Roque added.