PH should not choose between US, China, says Lorenzana
MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines should not be made to choose between the United States and China, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said, as the country walks on a tightrope between the two largest economies in the world.
While the relationship of the Philippines with the United States “has always been strong,” Lorenzana said these should be balanced.
“We should not be made to choose between supporting the US or supporting China,” he told ABS CBN News Channel.
The defense chief said the Philippines is not trying to appease China, amid criticisms that the Philippines is not doing enough to push back against Beijing’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea.
“We’re not appeasing China. We’re trying to develop relationships with all countries around the region. We’re not appeasing anybody,” he said.
“I think it’s not right to say that. I’ve come out with strong words against the Chinese and they reacted accordingly,” he said.
Lorenzana said he was even told by former Chinese ambassador not to use those words “because they have constituency at home.”
He said he replied that he, too, had constituencies watching him at home: “I said is it only you who have a constituency? I also have one in the Philippines and they are watching me, what I say, what is happening here,” he said in Filipino.
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.
Duterte has also set aside an international tribunal ruling that declared China’s 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.
“Our relationship with China has always been, since President Duterte became President, cordial and friendly. We don’t want to muddle the issue there. As I said, they’re our close neighbor and we have a lot of interactions with them, especially trade,” Lorenzana said.
The Philippines has been urged to aggressively pursue its alliance with the United States, a longtime treaty ally, to counter China’s assertive stance in the West Philippine Sea.
But Manila has refrained from joining naval drills with Americans and other foreign counterparts, upon the orders of Duterte, in the disputed waters to avoid antagonizing China.
“The main reason why we did not participate in the exercises in the South China Sea with the US and all the allies is because we didn’t have equipment to match what they are doing there. We have frigates but they’re not armed, we have ships but they’re not also armed,” Lorenzana said.
“Firstly, it’s not to antagonize China because China is watching us here and a lot of things could be done to us by the Chinese government if they are antagonized,” he added.
The Philippines, he said, can conduct exercises with foreign navies as long as it is within 12 miles from Philippine shores.
Lorenzana said Washington continues to deploy aircraft carriers in the South China Sea without consulting Manila to conduct freedom of navigation operations.
“To them, it is a traditional shipping lane and it is open to all so they can do anything they want there,” he said.
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