FOREIGN Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. admitted Friday that the Philippines cannot do anything about China’s move to militarize a series of contested artificial islands in the South China Sea.
“There is nothing that we can do about that now, whether or not it is being done for purposes of further militarizing these facilities that they have put up,” Yasay told journalists in Singapore.
“We cannot, we cannot stop China at this point... and saying do not put that up. We will continue to pursue peaceful means [by] which all of these can be prevented,” he added.
Yasay said the Philippines would tolerate Beijings actions so that there will be “no further actions that will heighten the tensions between the two countries,” particularly in the Scarborough Shoal.
“We will leave it at that. For the Philippines, we have our bilateral engagements with China... and our efforts have paid off. As you can see, our fishermen are allowed to... not allowed—But our fishermen now have free access, insofar as Scarborough Shoal is concerned,” Yasay said.
On Thursday, the US-based think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative showed new satellite imagery showing that China has installed “significant” defensive weapons in its seven islets in the Spratly Islands in recent years, built up from much smaller land protuberances and reefs.
Although Beijing has said it does not intend to militarize the contested waters of the South China Sea, ongoing satellite imagery has shown the installation of military equipment and longer runways.
They appear to be large anti-aircraft guns and close-in weapons systems, the AMTI said.
Despite these threats however, Yasay said that the issue about the militarization and the construction of permanent facilities by China “has already been passed upon by the arbitral tribunal and decision there is very clear.”
“We will move forward in the future insofar as pursuing the enforcement of the decision of the arbitral tribunal,” he added.
He said the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea was a major concern for the United States, Japan and the European Union.
“Let them take whatever action is necessary in the pursuit of their national interest... and we will leave it at that. For the Philippines, we have our bilateral engagements with China,” Yasay said.
He said the country would continue to engage China in other aspects of their relationship—trade, investments, people-to-people contact, cooperation, infrastructure development and other such assistance “that will have no strings attached.”
A leftist Duterte ally in the House, however, assailed China for its militarist actions.
“This is highly deplorable as it further militarizes an already militarized maritime zone. It raises the stakes for a potential regional dispute as US President-elect Donald Trump claimed he is ready to confront Beijing on territorial issues,” Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate said.
What is worse though, Zarate said, is that the action was done despite President Xi Jinping’s pledge not to militarize the islands in the Spratly archipelago.
“There should be a stop to these militarist activities both from China and the US because it would be very disadvantageous to the region and its people if this situation escalates,” Zarate said. With Maricel V. Cruz
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