China on Tuesday deplored what it described as “unreasonable remarks” made by United States National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien on the South China Sea, Hong Kong and Taiwan issues during his visit to the Philippines.
In a statement, the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines accused O’Brien of sowing discord between Manila and Beijing, projecting an exaggerated chaos in the region, while at the same time maliciously blaming China for it.
“He blatantly accused China on no ground, grossly interfered in China's internal affairs, deliberately exaggerated regional tensions and attempted to sow discord between China and the Philippines,” the Chinese Embassy said.
“We firmly oppose these remarks which are full of Cold War mentality and wantonly incite confrontation,” the embassy said.
Meanwhile, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the Philippines would remain neutral and would "not want to take part" in a power struggle between the United States and China.
China warned other nations of the US interference in the South China Sea and other issues intended to stir up confrontation among countries in the region.
“In recent years, in order to safeguard its regional and global hegemony, the US has regarded itself as “patron” and “judge” of regional countries and directly intervened in the SCS and other issues, fanned the flames everywhere, stirred up confrontation among the countries in the region, interfered in the efforts of China and relevant ASEAN countries to peacefully negotiate and manage disputes, and seriously undermined regional peace and stability,” it said.
"It shows that his visit to this region is not to promote regional peace and stability, but to create chaos in the region in order to seek selfish interests of the US," the embassy lamented.
During the turnover ceremony on Monday of the package of US precision-guided missiles worth $18 million to the Philippines, O’Brien reiterated Washington’s commitment to defend Manila if it comes under attack in the disputed South China Sea pursuant to the 69-year-old Mutual Defense Treaty.
Trump’s top security adviser also assured the Philippines that the US would always support and defend its treaty ally under the Mutual Defense Treaty, as he welcomed the decision of President Duterte to extend the US-PH Visiting Forces Agreement.
“We look forward to the VFA continuing to facilitate our closer cooperation in combatting terrorism,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien also lauded President Duterte’s recent call during the ASEAN Summit for all nations to respect international law in the South China Sea.
Earlier this year, the United States formally aligned its position on the Permanent Court of Arbitration judgment rendered in 2016 that invalidated China’s nine-dash-line claims over the South China Sea and upheld the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.
"They belong to the Philippine people. They don’t belong to some other country that just because they may be bigger than the Philippines they can come take away and convert the resources of the Philippine people. That’s just wrong,” O’Brien said.
However, China countered that the US had no right to intervene in the South China Sea disputes since it had refused to join the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The Philippines and China are signatories to the maritime treaty that defines coastal and maritime boundaries of states.
While it respects and appreciates the Philippines' independent foreign policy, China said it "firmly believes" that the "Philippine government and people will stand on the right side of history."
In a separate virtual press conference, O'Brien also criticized China for "extinguishing the flame of democracy in Hong Kong" and "attempts to coerce Taiwan."
"There is only one China in the world. Both Taiwan and Hong Kong are inalienable parts of China. We firmly oppose these remarks which are full of Cold War mentality and wantonly incite confrontation,” the Chinese Embassy stressed.
China also insisted the situation in the South China Sea "remains stable and is improving" despite continued reports of its harassment and provocation of civilian and military vessels from smaller claimants, such as the Philippines and Vietnam.
The Philippines and Vietnam both fired off several diplomatic protests against China in recent months to denounce its aggressive actions in the South China Sea.
“What the US has done is obviously contrary to the aspirations of the countries in the region and also goes against the trend of history, which is doomed to failure. We urge the US side to respect China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the SCS, respect the joint efforts of China and ASEAN countries for maintaining a peaceful and stable South China Sea and stop interfering and inciting confrontation in the SCS,” the embassy statement said.
“We hope that some politicians in the US should focus more on solving their own domestic issues and stop making irresponsible remarks on the Taiwan and Hong Kong issue, which are purely China's internal affairs,” the Chinese Embassy added.
The Philippines and China are locked in a maritime dispute, as China continues to claim the entire SCS despite the 2016 decision of The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration that invalidated Beijing’s massive claims following a lawsuit filed by the Philippines.
The President (Duterte) has said there will be increased tension among superpowers in the region. “We do not want to take part in that drive for hegemony," said Roque.
He added: "We will assert our national interest and we would want a peaceful resolution to the West Philippine Sea dispute."
“I cannot speak either for the national security adviser of the US or the spokesperson of China. I can only speak for the President,” Roque told reporters.
Meanwhile, Roque said President Duterte would act on the request of the US government for the Philippines to extend by another year the suspension of the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the two countries.
“Let’s just say that the President has taken note of the request of US authorities and he will decide as chief architect of foreign policy,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. said at a news conference.
Duterte put on hold the termination of the VFA for six months in June this year reportedly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and developments in the disputed South China Sea.
He recently extended the suspension by another six months, a decision welcomed by visiting US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien even as he suggested a longer period to allow both sides to address concerns regarding the VFA.