No need for shouting match with China — Esperon

Jaime Laude - The Philippine Star
No need for shouting match with China â Esperon
Criticized for being meek before China, the Philippines will raise the South China Sea ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at the right time, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said, adding the ruling in the country’s favor is key.
Presidential Photo, File

MANILA, Philippines — The Duterte administration is avoiding a daily “shouting match” with China over the West Philippine Sea but maintained it is protecting the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said yesterday.

Criticized for being meek before China, the Philippines will raise the South China Sea ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at the right time, Esperon said, adding the ruling in the country’s favor is key.

“We will raise that within the term of the President,” Esperon told reporters in an ambush interview in Quezon City where he attended a forum.

Esperon also said unknown to many, the government has taken a series of diplomatic actions against China’s occupation of South China Sea islands.

“There’s no need for us to engage China in a shouting match. I myself as chairman of the national task force on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) have a series of recommendations for diplomatic actions. When you talk with China on the matter, it’s already a form of protest. And we are trying to do it in a very calm and calibrated way. We don’t see any reason to be in shouting match with China almost daily,” Esperon said.

China refused to honor or acknowledge the PCA ruling that invalidated its nine-dash-line maritime and territorial claim that covers almost the whole of the South China Sea.

Until such time the government is ready to raise the PCA ruling with China, Esperon said the Duterte administration is better off focusing its efforts on solving the country’s internal security problems, including the Mindanao conflict, insurgency, proliferation of illegal drugs, terrorism and corruption.

Esperon said bolstering the country’s defense posture for both internal and external threats will then follow.

“Who is the strongest and powerful country in the region? That’s the reason why we have to calibrate our actions,” Esperon said.

Earlier, he also bared that the country, in contrast to claims by critics that the Duterte administration has already given up to China its sovereign and maritime rights in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), has deployed additional troops in the region.

In compliance with President Duterte’s directive of effective occupation of still unoccupied islets, military troops have also established their presence on two islets near Sabah in the south and two islets in Batanes in the country’s northern frontier, Esperon said.

He admitted the maritime and sovereignty issue in the West Philippine Sea remains highly volatile and fluid at this time and needs careful handling of the Philippine government.

So as not to escalate the prevailing tension in the region, the Philippines thought it wise, he said, to continue engaging with China through bilateral consultative meetings, instead of resorting to aggressive action.

“If we deploy our navy ships to press our sovereignty and maritime rights in the disputed region, they (China) have more vessels at their disposal. That is why we are trying to be very careful with our responses out there so that the country and our troops will not be drawn (into a one-sided conflict),” he said.

He brushed aside suggestions being put forward by some retired generals for the Duterte government to be more  assertive in protecting and preserving the country’s sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea.

The country’s relations with China, he pointed out, do not start and end with  the South China Sea issue as there are other components involved like trade as well cultural relations.

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