Palace denies PH is ‘too soft’ on sea row with China
The Philippines on Wednesday downplayed criticisms that the government is being “too soft” in dealing with China’s militarization in the South China Sea as it joined the call of Southeast Asian nations for non-militarization and self-restraint in the disputed territory.
Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) on Tuesday raised concerns on the continued militarization and reclamation of China in the disputed sea despite an earlier agreement to proceed with talks in crafting a sea code.
The statement came after aerial photos showed that China was nearly done transforming disputed reefs in the South China Sea into island fortresses.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said top diplomats of Asean were “right” in airing their concerns against China.
“Oo, tama naman po yang concern na ‘yan dahil ang hinihingi ng Asean bilang isang bloke, tumalima sa discussion ng code of conduct [ang China],” Roque told reporters in a phone patch interview.
(Yes, they are right regarding their concern because what they are asking, being a bloc, is for China to adhere to the discussion of the code of conduct.)
“[K]asama tayo sa Asean. “Yan po ang panawagan ng Asean. Kasama ang Pilipinas sa panawagan na yan,” he added.
(We are included in the Asean. That is the Asean’s call. The Philippines is one of them in calling for that.)
Sought for comments on criticisms that the Philippines was too soft in dealing with Beijing’s aggression in the South China Sea, Roque denied this, saying the government only wanted to maintain peace and stability in the disputed sea.
“We are not being too soft po pero meron tayong (but we have already) established policy diyan. Number one is: we are of course one with Asean in recognizing that this is a concern or all Asean countries, the freedom of navigation in the West Philippine Sea. Number two of course our common concern is peace security and stability in one of the world’s busiest sea lanes,” he said.
Since he assumed office, President Rodrigo Duterte has taken steps to mend Manila’s strained relations with Beijing after it went hostile during the term of former President Benigno Aquino III due to the long-unresolved territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
Duterte has vowed to take a “soft-landing” approach in dealing with the country’s maritime dispute with China, setting aside the United Nations (UN) arbitral ruling, which invalidate Beijing’s weeping claims to almost all of the South China Sea. /jpv
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