Locsin: Time not right to raise sea row with China
MANILA, Philippines — In what could be another turnaround, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Monday said this was “not the right time” for the Philippines to raise its “disagreements” with China in the South China Sea due to high tensions between the two countries over their rival claims in the heavily disputed waterway.
Likening the situation to a “pissing contest,” Locsin railed again against hundreds of Chinese fishing vessels that had been surrounding Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island and nearby islands in the West Philippine Sea since January.
West Philippine Sea is the local name of the waters within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea.
For the past two weeks, Locsin had been critical of China, disclosing that he had “fired off a salvo of diplomatic protests” against the presence of what the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative considered Chinese maritime militia around Pag-asa Island.
At one point, he accused China of taking what “is ours” and brandished the July 2016 ruling of the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration upholding the Philippines’ sovereign right to explore resources within its EEZ while rejecting China’s claims over nearly the entire South China Sea.
Despite PH friendship
“What is disappointing is that despite our friendliness and uninterrupted friendship, China continually embarrasses our gov[ernmen]t by swarming all over our exclusive economic zone,” Locsin said.
“There is more to China than reefs; it is that more we want to connect with without sacrificing or ever ever ever giving up the reefs on which our national honor is anchored,” he added.
But on Monday, Locsin toned down his social media commentaries on the dispute.
“This is actually not the right time to bring up disagreements over the West Philippine Sea with both sides hot under the collar while a pissing contest is in full flower,” Locsin tweeted.
“But ‘swarming in unison’ is definitely not traditional fishing under any definition,” he added.
Locsin explained that the government was responding to the “change in circumstances,” when asked why the Duterte administration was now emphasizing the arbitral victory.
Earlier this month, President Rodrigo Duterte said in a speech that China should lay off Pag-asa Island or he would order Filipino troops stationed there to go on a “suicide mission.”
By saying that, the President invoked the Hague court ruling in the Philippine challenge to China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo told reporters on Monday.
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, however, urged the government to take a multilateral approach to the maritime dispute and work for boundary agreements with other claimant countries.
“Let’s not put all our eggs in one basket,” Alejano said, referring to the government’s emphasis on China. —With reports from Julie M. Aurelio and DJ Yap
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