China embassy claims envoy 'misquoted' in comments on OFWs in Taiwan

Kaycee Valmonte - Philstar.com
China embassy claims envoy 'misquoted' in comments on OFWs in Taiwan
File photo: This March 20, 2021 photo shows Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian.
Facebook / Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian

MANILA, Philippines — Chinese Embassy in the Philippines on  Monday claimed its envoy was "misquoted or misinterpreted" after contents of Ambassador Huang Xilian's speech made headlines over the weekend. 

Huang late last week made reference to the thousands of Overseas Filipino Workers in Taiwan and said that they would be in danger if the Philippines does not oppose Taiwan independence, an issue that the country has not touched because of its adherence to the One China policy recognizing the People's Republic of China.

"It is appreciated that there was extensive coverage on Ambassador Huang Xilian's speech at the 8th Manila Forum," the foreign service post said in a statement Sunday. 

"Unfortunately some misquoted or misinterpreted Ambassador Huang's remarks or simply took part of the Ambassador's words out of context," it added, without elaborating.

FULL TEXT: Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian's Remarks at the 8th Manila Forum

Huang again emphasized China’s disapproval of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the Philippines and the United States, an agreement it is not a party to.

President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. this month approved the designation of four more EDCA sites in Isabela, Cagayan, and Palawan. EDCA provides US troops access to Philippine military bases for training and to store equipment related to military activities and humanitarian aid.

The safety and security of overseas Filipino workers based in Taiwan were dragged into the issue and was seen by many as an implied threat..

Sen. Risa Hontiveros has called on the Palace to ask Beijing to recall its ambassador after his "disgraceful statements."

China's EDCA concerns

In his speech, Huang said Washington continues to "contain China by exploiting the Taiwan question and breaking its commitments of maintaining only unofficial relations with Taiwan." Beijing protested last year the visits of high-ranking US officials to the self-governing island — saying it fed the notions of separatist forces — and began military drills along the Taiwan Strait. 

With the addition of new EDCA sites — some of which are closer to Taiwan than previous sites — China claims the US will be using the sites "to serve its geopolitical goals and advance its anti-China agenda at the expense of peace and development of the Philippines and the region at large."

Many Filipino politicians and ordinary Filipino people are questioning whether opening new bases will serve the national interests of the Philippines. “Why are the new EDCA sites only a stone’s throw away from Taiwan?” “How will the Philippines effectively control the prepositioned weapons in the military bases?” “Why will the Philippines fight for another country through the new EDCA sites?” These are soul-searching questions of the Philippine people and also doubt by people in China and across the region.

The National Security Council in a statement over the weekend clarified that the sites were chosen in accordance with the Strategic Basing Plan of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. It also underscored that the Philippines will not allow any country to use Manila as a pawn. 

"The development of these Philippine bases will enable the government to further strengthen the AFP to enable it to defend and protect the country," NSC Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya said in a statement.

"By developing our military and base infrastructure, we are pursuing our national interest and actually contributing to regional peace and stability."

READ: NSC: Philippines has ‘no intention of interfering’ in US-China Taiwan issue

Threatening OFWs?

The  Philippines also said it has been keeping an eye on developments in the Taiwan Strait to help keep OFWs working in Taiwan safe from harm.

Huang last week "advised" the Philippines to oppose Taiwan’s call for independence and stop adding fuel to the fire by offering the US access to its military bases:

Some tried to find excuse for the new EDCA sites by citing the safety of the 150,000 OFWs in Taiwan, while China is the last country that wishes to see conflict over the Strait because people on both sides are Chinese. But we will not renounce the use of force, and we reserve the option of taking all necessary measures. This is to guard against external interference and all separatist activities. The Philippines is advised to unequivocally oppose “Taiwan independence” rather than stoking the fire by offering the US access to the military bases near the Taiwan Strait if you care genuinely about the 150,000 OFWs. 

The NSC in its statement said it takes "grave exception to any effort by guests in our country to use this to fear-monger and intimidate us."

RELATED: Holding OFWs as hostage? Migrante condemns Chinese envoy’s statement

Marcos Jr., in an interview with Nikkei Asia during his state visit to Japan earlier this year, acknowledged that it would be difficult for the Philippines not to get involved in a potential conflict, considering its geographical location that is near the Taiwan Strait. 

However, he maintained that the OFWs will be the country's priority in that situation. 

"The immediate concern [would be our] 150,000 nationals in Taiwan, and how to bring them back, how to bring them to safety so in that regard, we will certainly use whatever assets we [have] to fulfill that mission,” Marcos Jr. said.

"When it comes to the military response, well, that will really depend on how it has gotten to that point. I sincerely believe that nobody wants to go to war." 

Mindanao, Taiwan issue the same?

While China commended the Philippines for observing a “One-China policy” – which means that Manila only has official diplomatic relations with China – Beijing still claimed Manila was meddling with its internal affairs by granting the US access to Philippine military bases.

Huang emphasized: 

The Taiwan question is entirely China’s internal affair, as is the Mindanao issue to the Philippines. You will never allow any third party to meddle with resolving rebel issues in Mindanao. Likewise, it should not be hard to understand why the announcement of the four additional EDCA sites has caused widespread and grave concern among Chinese people.

However, China’s notion that the Philippines did not get international help in the Mindanao peace process is inaccurate. Both the Department of National Defense and the Office of the Presidential Advisor on Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity (OPAPRU) noted that other parties were involved. 

"We wish to emphasize that the issues are different from each other," DND spokesman Director Arsenio Andolong said in a statement on Saturday.

Andolong said international organizations as well as Malaysia, the European Union, Turkey, Japan, Brunei, Australia, Sweden, Norway, the United Kingdom, Germany, among others — helped out in the peace process. 

"We encourage countries with similar situations such as ours to follow the same path in resolving conflicts peacefully and not resort to unnecessary threat of force, intimidation, and/or violence," OPAPRU said in a separate statement on Monday.

RELATED: EDCA not being used to interfere in China-Taiwan conflict, says DND | Peace office to China envoy: International support crucial to BARMM process

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