Marcos ready to try all approaches to resolve West PH Sea row, engage with China

Alexis Romero - Philstar.com
Marcos ready to try all approaches to resolve West PH Sea row, engage with China
Philippines President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City on Sept. 20, 2022.
AFP / Angela Weiss

NEW YORK, United States — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. expressed willingness to try all possible approaches to resolve the West Philippine Sea row as he reiterated his vow not to abandon even a square inch of the Philippines' territory to any foreign power.

Speaking to reporters Saturday, Marcos said he has been consistent in his stance on the issue and that his foreign policy would be guided by peace and national interest. He added that he does not want to be compared with his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, who had distanced himself from the US and had sought closer ties with China.

Asked whether he prefers a bilateral or a multilateral approach in resolving the dispute, the president replied: "I will prefer any approach that will work. Let us try everything."

"Kung saan tayo makalusot, eh ‘di maganda. Eh pero kung minsan hindi mo ma-expect kung saan talaga lalabas ‘yung ano eh ‘yung opportunity. Whatever works, then that would be great. Sometimes you cannot expect where an opportunity will arise. So let us try everything," he added.

During a forum organized by the non-profit Asia Society also Saturday, Marcos said the Philippines would continue to work with China and other claimant states to resolve the issues involving the West Philippine Sea through diplomacy and through dialogue. 

However, Marcos was firm on the Philippines' stance on its ownership of some of the areas in the resource-rich area.

"I think it’s no surprise to anyone that the Philippines has some of these conflicts with the People’s Republic of China. And the position that the Philippines takes is that we have no territorial conflict with China. What we have are China claiming territory that belongs to the Philippines," Marcos said.

The president noted that while foreign policy is not really the concern of ordinary citizens, it becomes "an issue right at the gut of people" if fishermen are not allowed to continue with their livelihood to fish in the areas where they fished for the last 30 to 40 generations.

Marcos, nevertheless, maintained that the West Philippine Sea row should not escalate into an armed conflict.

"Nobody wants to go to war. The one thing we need to avoid is a shooting war," the Philippine leader said.

"It’s clear that militarily there is no comparison between the Philippines and China in terms of capability, in terms of strength - military strength, should it come to that. However, we believe that the strength that we can apply will be from the partnerships we have with countries like Australia, with our ASEAN members, with the rest of our friends and allies in the region," he added.

Marcos said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations would play a stronger role in maintaining peace in the region and engaging with China.
"Once that engagement stops, then there is no progress and then things could very easily deteriorate and that is not what we want to happen," he said.

"Although we maintain our position in terms of our maritime territories and our fishing rights, our economic zones, we have nonetheless tried to continue to engage China on those basis, on that subject, but also engage China on other aspects."

Marcos also expressed confidence that the Philippines could count on the US to uphold international law-based order, freedom of navigation and overflight and the promotion of peace, security and prosperity. 

According to him, the West Philippine Sea row should not define the Philippines' relations with China, citing the people-to-people relationships and economic relations Manila has fostered with Beijing.

"If that (dispute) will be the defining part of our relationship, then we are really at a standstill. And hopefully if we make progress in other areas, this will help," he added.

China claims almost the entire South CHina Sea while  the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, and Taiwan have overlapping claims in the area.  A 2016 ruling by a Hague-based tribunal has invalidated China's maritime claim but the Chinese government has refused to recognize the decision. 

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