Stop acting like a colonizer, PH business groups tell China
MANILA, Philippines — In a rare move touching on the Philippines’ ties with the strongest economic and military power in Asia, the country’s largest chamber of commerce and other business groups on Wednesday joined calls on China to withdraw its maritime militia vessels from the West Philippine Sea and to stop acting like the colonizers that once subjugated the Chinese nation.
The latest diplomatic spat between Manila and Beijing began last month over the presence of more than 200 Chinese vessels that swarmed Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef, which is well within the 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.
On Tuesday night, the National Task Force for the West Philippines Sea reported that nine Chinese vessels were still moored at Julian Felipe and 231 more at other reefs, prompting another diplomatic protest from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier said the swarming of Julian Felipe showed China’s intent to occupy other maritime features within the West Philippine Sea. His demand that they all leave was included in the first protest against the vessels’ presence.
The business organizations said they supported Lorenzana, other government officials and many groups calling on China to withdraw these vessels.
In a statement, they said Julian Felipe was “historically and by law undisputed Philippine territory, as was most clearly established in the 2016 ruling based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”
The ruling by the international arbitral tribunal invalidated China’s claims to virtually the entire South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, waters within the country’s EEZ.
“Our exclusive right over the Julian Felipe Reef carries with it the utilization of, and the obligation to protect, its economic benefits, such as its rich marine life and mineral deposits, for the well-being of each and every Filipino,” the statement said.
It was signed by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI); the Management Association of the Philippines; the Makati Business Club (MBC); the Filipina CEO Circle; the Judicial Reform Initiative; Cebu Business Club; Iloilo Business Club, Inc.; and the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference for Human Development.
The PCCI is the country’s largest business group. Most its members are small and medium companies which are the prime movers of the Philippine economy and are engaged in, among others, trading, manufacturing, processing, and distribution.
Coco Alcuaz, executive director of MBC, said the statement resulted from “conversations” among business groups.
“Others are welcome to join or adopt it, or, just as well, issue their own. We issued it now because we believe it’s important to support [Secretary] Lorenzana and other officials who are defending Philippine sovereignty,” he told the Inquirer.
The statement said the two countries shared many things, “including being subjugated by colonizers and having their natural resources plundered.”
“Now that China is strong economically and militarily, we call on China to refrain from becoming an imperial power,” the statement said.
It reminded Beijing of a warning from Deng Xiaoping, one of China’s statesmen, who led in modernizing the most populous nation in the world.
It quoted Deng’s speech to the United Nations in 1974: “If one day China should change her color and turn into a superpower, if she too should play the tyrant in the world and everywhere subject others to her bullying, aggression and exploitation, the people of the world should expose it, oppose it and work together with the Chinese people to overthrow it.”
“We call on the Chinese authorities to respect the sovereignty of the Philippines and other neighboring countries for it is only through peaceful coexistence that we can achieve prosperity for all,” the business groups said.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Wednesday said President Rodrigo Duterte underscored the importance of the 2016 arbitral ruling at the UN General Assembly last year and that the country consistently invoked its sovereignty and sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea.
Another DFA protest
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Wednesday directed the DFA to “fire a diplomatic protest now.”
“Fired it off.” he later said on Twitter. “Beautifully written, but you will never see it because I’m like that. Annoying.”
On Monday, the DFA summoned China’s ambassador, Huang Xilian, reminding him of the 2016 arbitral ruling, which Beijing ignored, and telling him to withdraw the vessels from the West Philippine Sea.
The military’s Western Command based in Palawan province said “sovereignty patrols” on April 11 spotted 136 Chinese maritime militia vessels at Burgos (Gaven) Reef, nine at Julian Felipe, 65 at Chigua (McKennan) Reef, six at Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, three at Zamora (Subi) Reef, four off Pag-asa (Thitu) Island, one off Likas (West York) Island, five off Kota (Loaita) Island, and 11 at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
Pag-asa is the biggest island occupied by Filipinos in the Kalayaan Island Group, which is part of Palawan.
Each of the vessels is about 60 meters long and able to catch a ton of fish. Together, they illegally take “a conservative total of 240,000 kilos” of fish “every single day” from the West Philippine Sea, the task force said.
“These acts fall under illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing,” it said.
PLA Navy ships
The task force also reported sightings of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy ships at Kalayaan—two Houbei class missile warships at Panganiban, one Corvette-class warship at Kagitingan and a tugboat at Zamora.
Two Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessels also were seen inside the territorial sea of Pag-asa.
There were also two Chinese Navy, three CCG and 10 maritime militia vessels at Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal).
“All these warships of the PLA Navy contribute to the militarization of the area,” the task force said. “The combined presence of PLA-Navy warships, CCG and maritime militia in the municipality of Kalayaan and the Philippine EEZ is prejudicial to the peace and security of the region.”
Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, Armed forces of the Philippines chief of staff, on Wednesday ordered the deployment of three more Navy ships, adding to the two already patrolling the West Philippine Sea.
—WITH REPORTS FROM MARLON RAMOS, JEROME ANING AND JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE
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