PH protests China weapons on man-made isles
The Philippines has filed a low-key diplomatic protest with China after a US think tank reported that Beijing appears to have installed antiaircraft and antimissile weapons on its man-made islands in the strategically vital South China Sea.
In an interview with CNN Philippines on Monday, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said a diplomatic communication was issued after the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released the report last month.
The report said antiaircraft guns and close-in weapons systems designed to guard against missile attacks have been placed on all seven of China’s newly built islands in the Spratly archipelago.
Yasay said Manila had responded, but did so quietly as taking more aggressive moves would not help resolve the problem.
“We have taken action on that, we have issued a note verbale,” he said, referring to a diplomatic communication that is issued in the third person and is not signed. It is considered less formal than a letter of protest.
Yasay did not say when the note verbale was issued, adding it was a matter that he did not want to discuss.
“I just want to assure the Filipino people that when we take action at engaging China in this dispute, we do not want to take such aggressive, provocative action that will not solve the problem,” he said. “We cannot engage China in a war.”
Nevertheless, “when there are reports about the buildup of weapon systems in the area [on] our watch we made sure that the interests and rights of the Philippines are properly protected,” Yasay said.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea, dotted with islets and reefs believed to be sitting atop vast energy reserves and through which $5 trillion in global trade passes every year.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims in the resource-rich sea.
On July 12 last year, the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that China’s claims had no basis in international law and that it had violated the Philippines’ sovereignty by preventing it from fishing and exploring resources in the West Philippine Sea, South China Sea waters within Manila’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.
The Philippines brought the case in 2013 after China seized Panatag Shoal, a traditional fishing ground for Filipinos off the coast of Zambales province, in 2012.
Beijing rejected the ruling, insisting on bilateral negotiations to settle the dispute.
Mending ties with China
Instead of pressing acceptance of the ruling, President Duterte, a self-styled socialist, has been trying to mend ties with China that have been frayed by the arbitration case brought by his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III.
So far, China has responded enthusiastically, with promises of increased trade and billions of dollars in pledges for infrastructure projects in the Philippines. It has also offered to sell weapons to the Philippines, according to Mr. Duterte.
But Mr. Duterte’s reworking the Philippines’ ties with China has been accompanied by attacks on traditional ally the United States, which has criticized his bloody war on illegal drugs.
He has called US President Barack Obama a “son of a bitch” and scaled back security cooperation with the US military.
With the election of populist Donald Trump to the US presidency in November, however, Mr. Duterte has said he will stop quarreling with the United States and will keep Manila’s treaties with Washington.
The United States has sent a new ambassador to Manila, Korean-born Sung Kim, replacing Philip Goldberg, whom Mr. Duterte has called a “gay son of a bitch” for criticizing his off-color joke during the campaign about the rape and killing of an Australian missionary in a Davao City prison in 1989.
Sung met with Mr. Duterte in Davao City on Sunday after the formal assumption of the Philippines as chair and host of this year’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit.
Kim congratulated the Philippines and assured Mr. Duterte of US support, according to presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella.
“He reiterated the commitment of the US to the bilateral relationship with the [Philippines], which he described as ‘solid,’” Abella said. —REPORTS FROM AP AND LEILA B. SALAVERRIA
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