President Marcos upset but won’t seek China envoy’s recall

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
President Marcos upset but won�t seek China envoy�s recall
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. leads the ceremonial turnover of the People’s Survival Fund in the Malacañang Palace.
Presidential Communications Office

TOKYO — While he may be personally “upset” by what has been described as the “hostile” behavior of Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian, President Marcos said he won’t seek the recall of the envoy because the Philippines cannot afford to commit mistakes that may cause “huge trouble.”

There have been calls to expel Huang because of his supposedly disrespectful behavior, including his alleged bullying of Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr.

Some lawmakers have urged Marcos to send the envoy home, accusing Huang of aggravating the already tense situation in the West Philippine Sea instead of working to boost ties between Manila and Beijing.

In an interview with reporters here yesterday, Marcos said Huang was just doing his job and was stating the position of China on the West Philippine Sea row, and that any envoy who would succeed Huang is expected to do the same.

“He is the ambassador of China so he will always take the Chinese position. Again, if it is about me, maybe I’ll be upset,” the President said in Filipino.

“But you are not talking about me. You are talking about the Philippines. It does not serve any purpose for us to lose our temper or overreact,” he added.

According to Marcos, the Philippines may inform China if Huang is really objectionable. “He (Huang) is continuing to state the Chinese narrative. Of course, we won’t agree with that narrative, but I cannot see him doing anything else, so we just keep trying,” the Chief Executive said.

“Because the truth of the matter is even if the ambassador is replaced, the next ambassador would state the same line of China. They won’t stop that. That is why we have to work around it... We cannot overreact...It is not about us, it is about the Philippines,” he added.

“If we commit a mistake, it would lead to a huge trouble. We don’t want to go anywhere near that situation,” he said in mixed Filipino and English.

“I wish we could talk about it over the table as opposed to colliding with each other’s ship in the open sea. Of course, I will prefer the less confrontational method of trying to decide these things, but it is what it is,” the President said, referring to the ramming by a Chinese coast guard ship of a Philippine resupply ship near Ayungin Shoal earlier this month.

It was not the first time Huang has courted controversy.

Last April, the Chinese envoy drew criticism for advising the Philippines to “unequivocally oppose” Taiwan’s independence if it genuinely cares about the 150,000 Filipino workers there.

Various sectors claimed the ambassador made it appear that China is holding Filipino workers in Taiwan hostage. The Chinese embassy has claimed that his remark was taken out of context.

Asked to react to the recent swarming of Chinese vessels near Ayungin Shoal, Marcos said the Philippines has to be cautious to prevent increasing tensions in the area.

“We are exerting all efforts but...we have to be very careful that we do not overreact, that we do not make mistakes that might be misinterpreted by anyone. We have to be really careful because if something happens again, if we heighten the tensions, it won’t lead us to a good result. We are being very circumspect in the actions that we will take,” he said. 

Earlier this month, security officials reported that China’s Coast Guard and Chinese maritime militia vessels had “harassed, blocked and executed dangerous maneuvers” on Philippine civilian supply boats, to “illegally” prevent a routine resupply and rotation mission at Ayungin Shoal.

Marcos has described China’s acts as “aggression,” “provocations” and an “outright and blatant violation of international law and the rules-based international order.”

Reciprocal access ASAP

The Philippines and Japan want the proposed Reciprocal Access Agreement completed “as soon as possible,” President Marcos said yesterday, citing what he called the “big multiplier” that the deal could bring to Manila’s defense capabilities.

While the deal – which will allow the two countries to deploy military forces to each other’s territories for joint exercises and training – is widely seen as an effort to counter China’s aggressiveness, Marcos said the decision to hasten the talks is not related to recent incidents in the West Philippine Sea.

“No, it has been in the works for way before that,” the President told reporters here.

“Of course, the incidents in the past few...months (have) certainly sharpened our focus when it comes to that. But again, that is one of the things I am looking forward to, that big multiplier effect to our capabilities.”

Asked for his preferred timeline to finalize the agreement, Marcos replied: “I think both (Japanese) Prime Minister (Fumio Kishida) and I agree asap....as soon as possible, yesterday if not sooner.”

Marcos said the Reciprocal Access Agreement is among the types of arrangements that the Philippines is making not only with Japan but also with other countries around the South China Sea and the Indo-Pacific region.

During Kishida’s visit to the Philippines last month, the Philippines and Japan agreed to start the talks for the Reciprocal Access Agreement, which has been described by Marcos as “extremely significant.”

The two leaders vowed to work together to attain an early completion of the talks for the deal during their bilateral meeting here last Sunday.

During the meeting, Kishida told Marcos Japan would steadily carry out the giving of a coastal radar system to the Philippines through official security assistance. Japan would further boost cooperation in maritime safety capacity building based on the memorandum of cooperation between the coast guards of the two countries, Kishida added.

‘Stronger alliances’

Consistently under threat to the military might of China, Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez said the Philippine government needs all the help it can get with other allied nations in protecting the West Philippine Sea, not just for itself but also for freedom of navigation.

“The collaboration between the Philippines and Japan, as well as our alliance with other like-minded nations, is crucial in addressing the growing challenges we face in the region,” he said in his remarks during his bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Kishida in Tokyo.

The leader of the House of Representatives also expressed his strong support for President Marcos’ stance on the importance of stronger international alliances in maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea and the wider Asian region. — Delon Porcalla

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