Duterte ban on PH military in South China Sea drills elates China
MANILA, Philippines—The Chinese government has welcomed President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to ban the Philippine Navy from joining maritime drills of other navies in the South China Sea, a move that appeared to be in favor of Beijing’s claim of ownership of almost the entire area.
“We appreciate President Duterte’s remarks and stand ready to properly resolve maritime disputes with the Philippines through friendly consultations to jointly safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea and the entire region,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin was quoted as saying in a report by China Global Television Network website on Tuesday (Aug. 4).
He said that China’s position on the South China Sea issue has been “consistent and clear.”
“As has been proven, properly handling this issue is in the interest of both China and the Philippines and regional peace and stability,” Wang said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Monday (Aug. 3) said that the President has a standing order for the Philippine military to stay out of naval exercises with other navies in the South China Sea except if these were within 12 miles from Philippine shores.
China is enforcing its claim to nearly the entire South China Sea, including waters in the exclusive economic zones of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.
Duterte took a pivot to China when he became President in 2016 supposedly in exchange for loans and economic aid. His officials described it as a shift to an independent foreign policy, but not kowtowing to China.
He has also swept aside an international tribunal ruling that declared China’s mythical nine-dash line claim to the whole of South China Sea as invalid and its incursions into the maritime territories of the Philippines and other countries as illegal. Beijing continues to reject the ruling.
The United States, a long-time ally of the Philippines, has sent its nuclear-powered aircraft carriers in the South China Sea in recent weeks, conducting naval exercises and freedom of navigation operations.
The US activities followed the recent statements of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, which formally rejected China’s maritime claims in the disputed waters.
“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire,” Pompeo said.
“America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law,” he said.
The US also expressed support for the 2016 South China Sea ruling at The Hague.
Maritime expert Jay Batongbacal said Duterte’s decision to ban the Philippine military from joining multilateral naval drills would mean a loss of opportunity to improve its capabilities.
“These kinds of exercises allow the navy to continuously develop its capabilities to operate in this region,” he said in an interview with ABS CBN News channel on Wednesday (Aug. 5).
“Not joining exercises will limit our ability to coordinate movement and to conduct allied operations in the future,” he added.
This move, he said, also sends mixed messages which will confuse external observers on Philippine policy in the South China Sea.
Staying away from these exercises also sends a message that “the Philippines is not really willing at this time to put its money where its mouth is on external defense.”
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