Malacañang on Friday said critics of Beijing’s militarization of the South China Sea should refrain from calling China a thief or a bandit.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said it was not diplomatic to call the emerging regional power a “bandit,” as Manila and Beijing’s territorial disputes could be resolved peacefully.
“Let us instead say that there is really a dispute, there is a difference of opinion, there are bones of contention, but everything can be resolved in a peaceful manner,” Roque said in a media briefing in Camarines Sur.
Roque was reacting to a statement of Sen. Grace Poe, who had mocked Roque’s earlier claim that the Philippines may have to thank China for building its artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea.
Roque had said that China would someday lose its “might” and “those islands will be ours if we can ask China to leave.”
“The West Philippine Sea will freeze over first before China will even begin toying with the idea of giving us back those islands,” Poe said.
“Thus, Secretary Roque’s wishful thinking is like saying that a homeowner may soon be thankful to a gang of fully armed men who unlawfully intruded his place for sometime and made it their safe house, which in effect prevented other criminals from ransacking the same,” she said. “And this comes with false hopes that the gang members will decide to give the house back, if they have not yet transferred the title under their name.”
‘Free to dream’
However, Roque on Friday said the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague had ruled that the “sea where those artificial islands were built are part of the country’s exclusive economic zone.”
“That means only the Philippines have sovereign rights over those artificial islands. So for me, it’s free to dream. Why shouldn’t we dream (of one day controlling them)?” Roque said.
“When there is an opportunity, those islands will be ours,” he said.
Roque has been deflecting criticism of the Duterte administration’s acknowledgment of helplessness in the face of China’s intrusion into the West Philippine Sea, waters within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
Security experts have warned that China will soon have effective control of the South China Sea, with the air and naval bases it is building on the artificial islands in the Spratlys nearing completion.