DFA: Aggressive moves inconsistent with South China Sea code

Pia Lee-Brago - The Philippine Star
DFA: Aggressive moves inconsistent with South China Sea code
This photo release shows the Department of Foreign Affairs building in Pasay City.
Department of Foreign Affairs Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines — Tensions caused by incidents and aggressive actions inconsistent with the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) are not conducive to promoting peace and stability, the Philippines’ top diplomat said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo called for the preservation and strengthening of multilateralism and a rules-based order amid the difficulties posed by post-pandemic recovery, the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and escalating strategic rivalry between the United States and China, at the 59th Munich Security Conference (MSC) held from Feb. 17 to 19 in Munich, Germany.

The secretary was a lead discussant in an exclusive roundtable event and speaker at a main stage panel discussion at the MSC.

At the roundtable discussion on “Bridging Troubled Waters – Mapping Escalation Potential in the Indo Pacific Region” on Friday, Manalo reiterated the Philippines’ firm resolve to address the West Philippine Sea (WPS)/South China Sea issue through peaceful and legal means.

“Rival claims can only be solved peacefully by adhering to peaceful and rules-based approaches,” Manalo said.

He emphasized that “The Philippine approach, articulated long before and formalized in the 1982 Manila Declaration on the Peaceful Settlement of International Disputes, enjoys the support of the international community.”

The Philippines lodged a diplomatic protest with the Chinese government last week following an incident in which a Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessel pointed a military-grade laser at a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ship on a resupply mission at Ayungin Shoal, temporarily blinding some its crew.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) sent a strongly worded diplomatic protest to the Chinese embassy, condemning the “shadowing, harassment, dangerous maneuvers, directing of military-grade laser, and illegal radio challenges by CCG vessel 5205 against PCG vessel BRP Malapascua on 6 February 2023.”

The DFA said the actions by the China’s coast guard against the PCG vessel “constituted a threat to Philippine sovereignty and security as a state, and are infringements of its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its exclusive economic zone.”

These acts of aggression by China, the DFA said, are “disturbing and disappointing” as it came after the state visit to China of President Marcos in early January, during which he and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed “to manage maritime differences through diplomacy and dialogue, without resorting to force and intimidation.”

Despite China’s laser use against the Philippine ship, Beijing described the overall situation in Ayungin Shoal as “calm,” highlighting the “professional” and “restrained” action of its coast guard.

At the main stage panel discussion titled “Defending the UN Charter and the Rules-Based International Order” on Saturday, Manalo stated that the Philippines has consistently advocated a rules-based international order and that the 2016 Arbitral Award on the South China Sea vindicated the Philippines’ position that China’s nine-dash line is incompatible with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

He cited the broad support within the international community for the 2016 Arbitral Award as a mooring for a rules-based maritime regime in the South China Sea.

Manalo stressed that the United Nations could have a bigger role in putting to fore the importance of adhering to the rule of law in the maritime domain.

Philippines, China discuss Ayungin incident

Manalo said he had a broad and candid exchange with Fu Ying, vice chair of the foreign affairs committee of China’s National People’s Congress, on the sidelines of the conference.

“We talked about the latest incidents around Ayungin Shoal and how to further strengthen Philippines-China relations while managing our maritime differences and regional security challenges in Indo-Pacific,” Manalo said on a Twitter post Saturday night.

Fu, a former ambassador to the Philippines, was vice foreign minister with whom former US assistant secretary of state Kurt Campbell negotiated an immediate and mutual withdrawal of Chinese and Philippine vessels in Scarborough Shoal, also called Panatag Shoal, in 2012 but China reneged and kept its ships at the shoal.

Don’t react based on fear – Escudero

Sen. Francis Escudero said yesterday the Philippines must not react to negative incidents in the WPS “based on fear,” even if China and some quarters warned the US’ stiffening its military posture in the region was motivated out of self-interest and was escalating tensions after the government announced joint patrols and American troops access to an additional four new sites in the country.

“I don’t think it’s right that we base our foreign policy, what we’ll do or not do as a country, out of fear that China, which is trying to take a part of our territory, will get angry or have a different interpretation,” Escudero told dzBB in Filipino.

“Of course, it’s not the opinion of the one opposing you in relation to the territorial dispute (that) is important, but the opinions and assistance being offered by friends and those supporting us,” he said.

When asked about warnings that the government’s joining patrols in the WPS and exploring a possible Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with Japan would lead to some pushback from Beijing, the senator said: “So President Marcos should no longer pursue EDCA (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement) because of fear of what China might think? So, he should no longer deal with Japan and Australia to ensure freedom of navigation in international sea lanes? I don’t think so.”

He, however, believes there continues to be backchanneling between the Philippines and China to avoid escalation of tensions despite public pronouncements from the two countries.

The EDCA between the Philippines and the US allows the stationing of American troops in pre-agreed military stations on a rotational basis for cross-training and some transfer of defense technology.

It is one of two agreements under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the US.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida proposed a defense cooperation triad with the US during Marcos’ recent state visit to Tokyo. There are also some talks of a VFA between the Philippines and Japan. Sen. Francis Tolentino suggested a security “quad” with Australia, which also has a VFA with the Philippines.

Escudero said it was good that the President, along with officials of the DFA, Armed Forces, the PCG and other concerned agencies have been more vocal about Chinese harassment and encroachment in the WPS compared to the previous administration to show Filipinos the government is not shrugging off such incidents.

But it was not like Marcos has brushed off China and was enamored with the US, but more like combining the good parts of the foreign policies of the Aquino and Duterte administrations, which have been seen as antagonistic and friendly with Beijing, respectively, he said.

“While he’s (Marcos) strengthening alliances between the US, Japan, and even Australia with the Philippines, he continues to foster relations with China,” he said, noting that the President was in Beijing for a state visit in the first week of the year to seek investments and more trade that can create stronger ties.

Escudero said the country can learn from the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping who pointed out that two opposing sides can agree on what they can agree on today and set aside what they disagree on.

‘Diplomatic protests not always the best solution’

Meanwhile, a senior administration lawmaker said yesterday the Marcos administration did the right thing in forging strategic military alliances with allied forces like the US and Japan, primarily because dozens of diplomatic protests have almost always fell on deaf ears.

“I think a simple diplomatic protest right now is not enough. Definitely, it’s a part of harassment and bullying – a big, powerful country bullying the Philippines,” Rep. LRay Villafuerte observed, in obvious reference to repeated incursions made by China.

“Given that the Philippines cannot fight China on its own, we should promote relationships with our allies like the US, Japan, or our neighbors, to make China feel that it cannot continue doing this,” the Camarines Sur congressman stressed.

“It’s really sad that this thing is happening, that we are being bullied. We should stand up and unite as a nation to tell China to stop this,” Villafuerte said as he cited as basis the latest incident in Ayungin Shoal.

He said it’s about time the government takes a “more assertive action by taking joint steps with the US, Japan, our Southeast Asian neighbors and other allies meant to demonstrate to China that it needs to stop once and for all its maneuvers in the West Philippine Sea.”

Villafuerte said joint patrols in the WPS could be conducted not only with the US, but also with other countries as well like Japan, Australia and Canada that had all voiced serious concerns over the Ayungin Shoal incident.

The president of the National Unity Party urged government to go “beyond merely issuing a diplomatic protest” against China’s latest act of bullying, which made only matters worse even if President Marcos and President Xi Jinping have agreed for a peaceful resolution.

Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, for his part, called on the government to “stand up against China aggression.”

“Now that China has finally owned up to its cowardly act of bullying us in our territorial seas, we condemn in the strongest terms these acts of aggression,” he said.

The Surigao del Norte congressman called on Filipinos “to stand united and rally behind our President as he expresses our frustrations and protests diplomatically. We cannot anymore keep quiet and endure in silence.” –  Paolo Romero, Delon Porcalla

vuukle comment


  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with