Del Rosario: Then and now, China can’t be trusted
MANILA, Philippines — In the past, China’s words and actions showed it could not be trusted, and it still can’t be, as shown by its words and actions on the sinking of a Philippine fishing boat after being hit by a Chinese trawler in the South China Sea, former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Wednesday.
Del Rosario, who headed the Department of Foreign Affairs in the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, said he had “firsthand experience” that “China is not to be trusted, that their word is unreliable.”
“When China makes a declaration, you can almost be sure that it is not consistent with what is happening on the ground,” he said in a statement.
Del Rosario pointed to two occasions where China was not truthful: when a Chinese official years ago promised the United States there would be no militarization of the South China Sea, and when China did not withdraw its ships after committing to withdraw them in a US-brokered deal to end a maritime standoff with the Philippines over ownership of Panatag Shoal in 2012.
The Philippines and Vietnam stridently protest China’s building of military outposts on artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago.
China continues to blockade Panatag Shoal, also known as Scarborough Shoal, a traditional fishing ground for Filipinos off the coast of Zambales province.
“China’s duplicity is now manifesting itself more closely to our people with the recent ramming of our fishing boat and the abandonment of our fishermen in the high seas. To avoid being pathetic, this was followed with two clumsy attempts to fabricate believable explanation,” Del Rosario said.
He was referring to Beijing’s initial statement that the Chinese trawler rammed the Philippine fishing boat at Recto Bank and abandoned the 22 distressed Filipino fishermen because it feared it might be “besieged by seven to eight Philippine fishing boats” in the area.
There were no other Philippine boats at Recto (Reed) Bank at the time. The fishermen struggled in the water for hours until a Vietnamese boat came and rescued them.
Del Rosario said he met last week with Vietnamese Ambassador Ly Quoc Tuan “to thank him for the successful rescue effort of our fishermen.”
“[The Vietnamese ambassador] confirmed that the rescue took place early morning, nearly four hours after the collision as there were no other boats in the area,” he said.
In his statement, Del Rosario said that while he was partial to bilateral talks to resolve the incident, he said he was glad that “our officials are considering taking a stand for what is right in multilateral meetings.”
The government has held talks with Beijing on the incident and it has also raised the matter to the United Nations International Maritime Organization.
“We should be consistent in doing so with a firm conviction that the rule of law must be adhered to and respected,” Del Rosario said.
“While we are cognizant of the imperative not to trigger an armed conflict, we believe that adherence to the rule of law is a profoundly pacifist way that we all should follow. Specifically, to accept that war is the only alternative to setting aside the arbitral decision is remarkably incredible and cannot be taken seriously in this modern world,” he said, referring to the 2016 ruling by the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague invalidating China’s claim over nearly the entire South China Sea.
The ruling was handed down on a challenge brought by the Philippines after China seized Panatag Shoal.