US: No reason for China to overreact to drills

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
US: No reason for China  to overreact to drills
A Philippine Air Force FA-50 fighter jet takes off from Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga yesterday as part of the 2024 Cope Thunder bilateral combat aerial exercises between the PAF and the US Air Force.
Walter Bollozos

WASHINGTON, United States —  There is no reason for China to overreact to the joint maritime patrol conducted by Manila, Washington, Tokyo and Canberra in the South China Sea as the activity is in line with freedom of navigation and international law, a White House official said yesterday.

“I can’t speak for the PRC (People’s Republic of China) reaction, one way or another, except to say there is no reason to overreact to this,” White House National Security Communications Adviser John Kirby said at a press briefing last Wednesday here.

“This is about freedom of navigation. It’s about adherence to international law, it’s about proving the simple point that we and our allies will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law permits us to do, and it does in the South China Sea, and we did,” he added.

Kirby explained that the quadrilateral exercise was about “reconfirming a simple principle about international maritime law and international waters.”

The Philippines, US, Japan and Australia conducted joint drills within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone last Sunday in a move widely seen as a response to China’s aggressive actions and incursions in the area.

China, which claims historic rights over virtually the entire South China Sea, responded to the joint exercise by conducting its own maritime drill.

Philippine ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said the Philippines is approaching the situation in the South China Sea in a multilateral way, noting that it is talking not just to western countries but also to its partners in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Romualdez expressed hope that the Philippines would be able to have a serious dialogue with China on many of these issues surrounding the dispute.

“But we have to start from the fact that we have to accept that there is such a thing as a rule of law and the sovereignty of each nation,” the envoy added.

Trilateral summit

As concerns mount over China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, President Marcos, US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida are set to meet today to tackle ways to boost their security and economic ties in their first ever trilateral summit that is seen to shape the future of the Indo-Pacific region.

Kirby said the leaders of the three leading maritime democracies would take their cooperation to “new heights” but clarified that the historic summit is not just about China’s actions in the strategic sealane.

“You shouldn’t take away from it that these discussions are just all about China or all about how to counter their growing aggressiveness. Yes, that’s a piece of it, but I would ask you to look at it from a more strategic perspective. These two countries, the Philippines and Japan, are treaty allies of the United States and we take our treaty commitments very, very seriously,” Kirby said on Wednesday.

“But our relationship is bigger than that, I mean, it’s very easy to get hung up on (those) defense relationships, important as they are, but we shouldn’t get hung up on that. There’s a lot more to discuss here and there’s a lot more purpose to these meetings than just about what we’re doing to react to PRC aggression,” he added.

Ambassador Romualdez said the trilateral summit would “define the future of the Indo-Pacific region on where it is going.”

“We can take comfort of the fact that we have so many nations, perhaps, I would say a large majority of countries all over the world, are supporting the freedom of navigation, the rule of law, and of course, the support that we are getting from the arbitration award given to us by the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea),” he said, referring to the 2016 arbitral ruling.

The summit comes as China is reaping fresh criticisms over its harassment of Filipino fishing boats and its use of water cannon on ships conducting resupply missions at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in the South China Sea.

In a speech delivered before his departure for Washington, Marcos said among the goals of the trilateral summit is to keep the peace and the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. While security and defense form part of the discussion, Marcos said a deal among the three countries is “mainly an agreement to strengthen the cooperation on the economic front.”

According to Kirby, a multinational cooperation and deeper alliances would allow countries to “move the ball forward” on so many issues beyond the security element.

Major change

Romualdez said the “major change” in terms of the relationship among the three countries is more in the area of economic enhancement, which also includes the procurement of defense equipment.

“As you know the United States and Japan have already come to an agreement that Japan will now be producing quite a number of technological enhancements for defense. We most likely will be getting some of that, or... either we would be buying it or we would be given an opportunity to be able to have it as part of our defense modernization,” the envoy said.

“So, that is where the major change is, that the cooperation is so strong that we can expect a lot of types of enhancements in the economic sphere but also we can include the defense.”

Before the trilateral summit, Biden is scheduled to meet with Marcos to mark what Kirby described as the “unprecedented” strength of the alliance between their countries.

“President Biden will reinforce the ironclad US alliance commitments to the Philippines. The two leaders will also discuss their shared commitment to democratic values including respect for human rights, and for internationally recognized labor rights,” Kirby said.

Marcos arrived here yesterday at 7:47 a.m. Philippine time at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and was welcomed by Philippine embassy and US officials.

Among those who accompanied him in his two-day official visit here are Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo, Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla, Presidential Communications Secretary Cheloy Garafil, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual, National Security Adviser Eduardo Año, Special Assistant to the President Antonio Lagdameo Jr., Finance Secretary Ralph Recto, Speaker Martin Romualdez, Sen. Francis Tolentino and Ambassador Joey Antonio.

International solidarity over WPS

The historic trilateral meeting between President Marcos, US President Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida sends a strong message for international solidarity to ensure observance of rules-based order, according to Speaker Romualdez.

“This historic gathering serves not only as a powerful symbol of unity but as a clarion call for stronger international solidarity to reaffirm every nation’s unwavering commitment to upholding international law and the rules-based order, which are fundamental pillars for ensuring lasting peace, stability, and prosperity,” he said.

The House leader also expressed hope that the growing support of the international community to calls for all parties to adhere to rules-based order and freedom of navigation would eventually help defuse the simmering tension, particularly in the West Philippine Sea.

Ranking members of the House added that the historic trilateral summit serves as a compelling call for international solidarity in upholding a rules-based order.

Deputy Speaker David Suarez said the trilateral meeting aimed to strengthen the enduring alliance among the three nations while emphasizing their shared commitment to international law and order.

Senior Deputy Speaker Aurelio Gonzales said the trilateral meeting between the three leaders served as a rallying cry for a rules-based order in the world, and is especially important amid the rising tension in the heavily disputed West Philippine Sea.

House Majority Leader Manuel Jose Dalipe echoed Gonzales’ statement, saying it is important to focus on the freedom of navigation in the WPS as an example of a rules-based world system.


President Marcos’ trip to the United States for a trilateral summit with the US and Japan is a sellout of Philippine sovereignty, the National Democratic Front (NDF) said on Thursday.

The NDF’s International Office criticized Marcos for offering the Philippines to serve as a “theater of war” by allowing the US to position its military arsenal in the country.

“Marcos Jr. must be held accountable for his reprehensible sellout of Philippine sovereignty and his blatant disregard for the lives of the Filipino masses,” the NDF said. “The Philippines’ strategic location allows the US to constrict regional waterways and position readily deployable military air power in close proximity to China.”

Referring to the trilateral summit, the NDF said the alliance is part of the US efforts to escalate war preparations in the region by encouraging Japan, the Philippines and other allies to join military operations in the Asia Pacific and provoking China into firing the first shot.

Militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) warned the trilateral summit will lead to the country’s recolonization and participation in a war in the region.

“We refuse to be dragged into an inter-imperialist rivalry and war. Our assertion of sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea should not lead to the opportunistic meddling of our former colonizers,” Bayan secretary general Raymond Palatino said. –  Delon Porcalla, Emmanuel Tupas

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