PH cautioned on response to China missile deployment in Spratlys
The Philippines must tread carefully and “maintain high moral political ground” in crafting a diplomatic and military response to reports of China’s deployment of missiles on three of its outposts in the West Philippine Sea, senators said on Friday.
The objective, according to Sen. Gregorio Honasan II, is “to avoid armed conflict tensions which the Philippines alone cannot afford.”
Assuming the reports were true, Honasan proposed that the government invoke its standing security pacts with allies and reassert the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidating China’s sweeping historical claims in the South China Sea.
“If verified to be true, [the Philippines should] maintain high moral political ground by invoking the arbitral ruling, international law, UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) etc.,” the senator said in a text message.
Honasan also suggested that the Philippines build upon the array of economic and security arrangements it had forged multilaterally or bilaterally with allies, including the Mutual Defense Treaty, Visiting Forces Agreement, and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States, and with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
It would also be a good idea, he said, to restart “confidence-building measures” with China, along the lines of the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) between China, Vietnam and the Philippines during the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV agreed that the Philippines should strengthen its security alliances, especially those with the US, Japan, Australia and the Asean.
“Militarily, in the short term, we should fast-track the implementation of the EDCA, and encourage freedom of navigation patrols by the US and other allies,” he said.
“In the medium term, we should strengthen our security alliances with the US, Japan, Australia and the ASEAN; and continue our AFP modernization,” Trillanes said in a text message.
As for the diplomatic response, “we should reassert our victory in the arbitral tribunal. We should also initiate a regional security summit to raise international awareness on the WPS (West Philippine Sea) situation,” he added.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, on the other hand, said it was important to verify first whether reports of China’s installation of missile systems were true in the first place.
“Is the news accurate? It’s contrary to what the diplomatic community of both our country and China have said recently. Let’s verify then [a] diplomatic approach should be the first strategy,” he said.
The US news network CNBC, citing sources with direct knowledge of US intelligence reports, reported that China had launched anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems (SAMS) on three Philippine-claimed reefs.
The missiles and missile systems were reportedly deployed on Kagitingan, Zamora and Panganiban, three of seven Philippine-claimed reefs that China had seized and transformed into artificial islands in the Spratlys region.
The three reefs are internationally known as Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief reefs, respectively, and they are among the marine features in the Spratly archipelago that are disputed by China and the Philippines and three other Southeast Asian nations—Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.
Taiwan, like China, claims all of the Spratlys, an archipelago of about 100 islets, reefs and atolls in the middle of the South China Sea.
The installation of the missiles, if confirmed, would mark the first Chinese missile deployments in the Spratlys.
Honasan reminded Philippine and Chinese leaders that activities in the South China Sea were being closely watched.
“Our audience is the global community of democratic peace-loving nations against unwarranted bullying by bigger powers,” he said.
“But it presumes we have clear sense of our national interest, long-term foreign economic security policies that transcend administrations for more policy continuity sustainability predictability for the benefit of our domestic and international audience,” Honasan said.
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