China: PH-US defense pact won’t ‘weaken our resolve’
MANILA, Philippines — China’s foreign ministry said the Philippines’ Mutual Defense Pact with the United States had no bearing on Beijing’s resolve to protect its rights in the South China Sea after a Feb. 6 laser “attack” by a Chinese coast guard ship on a Philippine patrol vessel ignited a diplomatic furor.
In Beijing, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin reiterated his government’s stance that the 2016 arbitral ruling which invalidated China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea was “illegal, null and void.”
“We would also like to point out that the South China Sea arbitration case brought by the Philippines was pure political drama orchestrated by the US,” he told reporters during a regular news briefing on Tuesday.
“Its so-called ruling is illegal, null and void and will have no effect whatsoever on China’s claims to rights in the South China Sea,” Wang said, referring to the July 12, 2016, decision of the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration that recognized the Philippines’ sovereign right to fish and exploit resources in the West Philippine Sea, or the waters within its 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
He also dismissed Washington’s statement pledging to defend Manila under the terms of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) signed by the two allies in 1951.
‘Won’t weaken China’s will’
“The US invokes its Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines at every turn in an attempt to intimidate China, but it will not weaken our resolve and will to safeguard China’s legitimate and lawful rights and interests,” Wang said.
On Tuesday, the US Department of State repeated such a commitment in response to reports about a China Coast Guard (CCG) ship striking a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessel with military-grade laser that temporarily blinded some of its crew on Feb. 6.
The incident occurred in waters off the Philippine-occupied Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, part of the Kalayaan island group, also known as the Spratly chain, and located 194 km west of Palawan province.
Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said the actions of the CCG personnel already constituted an “armed attack on a Philippine public vessel,” meaning the Philippines “can thus invoke the MDT.”
On Feb. 14, the Philippine government dispatched a diplomatic protest and called on Beijing to ensure its vessels ceased “aggressive activities” in the area.
The protest note invoked the 2016 arbitral ruling, reaffirming that Ayungin Shoal was part of the country’s EEZ and rejected China’s claim to practically the entirety of the South China Sea.
Underlining the seriousness of the matter, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian on Tuesday afternoon to ask him about China’s escalating harassment of Filipino fishermen and PCG vessels in the West Philippine Sea.
But Wang maintained that there was no provocation on the part of the CCG crew during the incident.
“We would like to stress again that what the China Coast Guard did was professional and restrained,” he said.
He said China and the Philippines “have communicated about this through existing maritime-related communication channel between the foreign ministries.”
“At present, the relevant waters are calm overall,” Wang said.
Ma. Teresita Daza, spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs, confirmed that the two sides had started using the new channel for maritime disputes to address the Ayungin Shoal incident, but she did not give other details.
On Wednesday, senators expressed their displeasure over China’s aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea, with one saying the Philippines should stop trusting Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“They act like our friends when we face them, but do something else behind our backs,” Sen. JV Ejercito told the Inquirer.
“The Chinese government of Xi Jinping should not be trusted,” he said.
Ejercito welcomed Marcos’ decision to summon the Chinese ambassador for the actions of the CCG “disrespecting” Filipinos within the country’s own waters.
He said the proposal of former National Security Adviser Clarita Carlos to downgrade the country’s bilateral relations with China “might be good to consider.”
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara said China’s use of military-grade laser to attack a PCG ship and the harassment of Filipino fishermen were “not the acts of a ‘friend.’”
“There is no threat posed by our troops as they are just delivering food and supplies to our officers there (in Ayungin Shoal),” Angara said.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said the government should not tolerate the Feb. 6 incident.
“We stand completely behind our personnel and we protest vigorously against the continued provocations of the CCG in the West Philippine Sea,” the Senate leader said.
Sen. Christopher Go insisted that Ayungin Shoal belonged to the Philippines, pointing out that the country had been sending supplies to soldiers stationed in the BRP Sierra Madre, a decrepit World War II landing ship that now served as a military post, to enforce the country’s control over the Kalayaan island chain.
More VFAs proposed
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez urged the president to enter into defense and security cooperation deals with other countries in response to China’s “unacceptable and detestable” harassment of a PCG vessel.
The House constitutional amendments panel chair said the government should negotiate with other allies and forge another Visiting Forces Agreement with them, similar to the one with the United States.
He suggested defense pacts not only with Japan but other allies such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Korea.
The opposition Makabayan bloc filed House Resolution No. 781 urging the House of Representatives to express its “strong condemnation” of the Feb. 6 incident and calling for an investigation in aid of legislation.
The measure also asked the President to issue an “unequivocal assertion of the country’s sovereign rights over the Ayungin Shoal and demand the pullout of Chinese military assets in the West Philippine Sea.”