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Match words with deeds, China told

MANILA, Philippines — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has urged China to match its words with action to win the Filipinos’ trust after its ambassador assured the people that it wanted a peaceful settlement to the South China Sea row.

On Tuesday’s press briefing for the 2019 National Disaster Resilience Summit in Quezon City, Lorenzana said he had already heard Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua’s speech during Monday night’s reception for the 92nd founding anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army in Makati City.

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“I have heard versions of that speech many times already. I have heard that from the mouth of [President] Xi Jinping when we met him with the President, first time we met in 2016. I heard again from the mouth of other ministers. And again last Shangri-La dialogue [in Singapore], I heard it again from their minister of defense. So nothing new from what they are saying,” Lorenzana said.

‘Peaceful settlement’

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In his speech on Monday night’s event where the defense secretary was among the guests, Zhao had assured the public that China “is firm with adhering to the policy of peaceful settlement.”

“China will continue to work with the Philippines and other states directly concerned to resolve the relevant disputes in the South China Sea through bilateral negotiation and consultation on the basis of respecting historical fact and in accordance with international law, which also includes United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Zhao said.

Claims not easy to settle

The ambassador said the conflicting claims were “not easy to settle,” which is why China and other claimant countries should be patient and at the same time continue with their good general relations.

Zhao said China was also looking forward to finalize a new Code of Conduct on the South China Sea with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), including the Philippines, which is currently the coordinator of China-Asean relations.

According to Lorenzana, China is preaching peace “but it does not match what they are doing on the ground.”

“That’s what I questioned them about in the Shangri-La dialogue. They were saying, ‘We do not bully people around.’ They follow international law but I said, ‘You are not. What you are telling is not what you are doing on the ground.’ So maybe until such time that their action is matched by the words, then what they are saying is doubtful,” he said.

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‘They are bullying people’

“The bottom line is, what they are saying do not match their actions on the West Philippine Sea,” he added.

Lorenzana pointed out that it was natural for Filipinos to express distrust of China, saying that “since they started grabbing islands, they are bullying people around.”

“Of course people will doubt them. The Filipino trust rating for the United States is high because they have never bullied us,” he said, referring to the Pulse Asia survey conducted from June 24 to 30, which showed 74 percent of Filipinos distrusted Beijing.

Not at face value

The same survey showed that 89 percent of Filipinos trust the United States.

“Until such time that the behavior of the Chinese will match their rhetoric, then the low trust [for the country] of the Philippines will continue,” the defense secretary said.

He described China’s occupation of Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal in 2012 as bullying.

Malacañang, for its part, said it would “not take the words of other countries at face value” amid China’s assurance that it would “not take the first shot” if the South China Sea territorial row gets worse.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said President Rodrigo Duterte “will always think beyond those words” after the Chinese ambassador stressed China’s commitment as a “force for peace, stability and prosperity.”

“The President is mandated to the security of this country and the security of its people. Hence he will anticipate what may come out of any aggressive action that this country may undertake vis-a-vis the conflict in that area,” Panelo said.

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TAGS: Delfin Lorenzana, Maritime Dispute, PH-China Relations, South China Sea, West Philippine Sea, Zhao Jianhua
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