President Rodrigo Duterte said he cannot afford to put up a brave front against China despite repeated incursions and provocative actions in the West Philippine Sea.
“I am walking on a tightrope, actually. I cannot afford to be brave in the mouth against China because, well, we are avoiding any confrontation – a confrontation that would lead to something which we can hardly afford, at least not at this time,” the President in his speech during Friday’s inspection of newly-delivered air assets at the Air Force City in Pampanga.
He also expressed concern as tensions between Washington and Beijing mounted over the South China Sea issue.
“I hope they will understand that we are the nearest to a theater of war. The battle would be submarines and aircraft carriers and all. We will be dragged into that. I do not want to participate in any adventure of that kind if I can help it,” Duterte said.
“I am not against the Chinese, neither am I pro-American. I am just a Filipino government worker working for the interest of my country,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs said it has sent 60 diplomatic notes to China protesting its various actions and behavior in the disputed South China Sea waters for the past five years.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. acknowledged that Beijing has never been impolite in addressing the diplomatic protests even as it continued with its incursions.
“In some cases, one response addressed issues raised in several diplomatic notes. They are never impolite in my experience,” Locsin said in a Twitter post.
Specifically, the Department of Foreign Affairs protested last year the following issues: China’s aiming of a fire-control radar against a Philippine naval vessel; unlawful radio challenges against Philippine air and maritime assets patrolling Philippine waters, legitimately; maritime scientific research (MSR) by Chinese vessels in Philippine waters without consent; and China’s presumptuous establishment of two “new districts” (Xisha and Nansha) in the South China Sea.
Manila also issued a note verbal to China dated January 27, 2021, becoming the first country to lodge a diplomatic protest against China’s Coast Guard Law.
“While enacting a law is a sovereign prerogative, the geographic area of coverage of China’s claims directly poses a threat to the conduct of Philippine legitimate activities in the West Philippine Sea, which, if unchallenged, is acquiescence,” the DFA said.
“The Philippines strongly opposed any application of China’s Coast Guard Law beyond the limits of China’s maritime entitlements under international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 Award on the South China Sea arbitration,” the department added.
Besides the Philippines and China, the resource-rich South China Sea is also being claimed by Brunei, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Malaysia.