The territorial row in the West Philippine Sea remains the most critical security challenge for the country, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Thursday.
“[T]he West Philippine Sea… is actually still the most critical, external security challenge for the Philippines,” Lorenzana said during a speech before the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.
“We have competing maritime claims there [with] some ASEAN members and China, and compounding the issue is the backdrop of a rapidly evolving regional environment where the United States and China have this ongoing rivalry on the control of the area, and also the potential Taiwan Strait conflict,” he added.
The US is the country’s treaty ally while China is the Philippines’ largest next-door neighbor.
“I was asked yesterday (Wednesday) at the Senate hearing of our budget, what is our action [would be] if China will attack Taiwan. I don’t know. I told them it’s very unlikely that China will attack Taiwan but in the unlikely event [that they do] then we just watch maybe,” Lorenzana said.
Lorenzana said President Rodrigo Duterte has pursued a calibrated, comprehensive and constructive approach in engaging China.
The goal is to pursue functional cooperation with China and with other claimant-countries [in the WPS],” he added.
Lorenzana also clarified that the country continues to view the arbitral tribunal ruling in favor of the Philippines as valid and legitimate.
“And in many instances, the President has said he’s going to raise that before the Chinese before his term ends. We have not and we will not surrender any part of our territory,” he said.
Meanwhile, GMA News reported that two Chinese guided-missile frigates and a replenishment ship have arrived in Manila for a four-day goodwill visit before heading back to China.
A report on the news show Balitanghali said this was the second visit of the Chinese Navy in the country under the administration of President Duterte.
The Chinese warships came from the Gulf of Aden in Somalia where they watched over merchant ships, including those from the Philippines, the report said.