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PBBM: PH to stand up to China sea ‘coercion’

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As Beijing warns Manila to ‘make rational choice’ on WPS

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said Thursday the country would stand up to the “coercion” of China’s ships in the South China Sea even as Beijing warned Manila to “make the rational choice” with its territorial claims in the strategic waterway.

China voiced growing frustration and anger with the Philippines’ unexpectedly bold tactics in the West Philippine Sea in warning its neighbor, but Mr. Marcos vowed Filipinos would not succumb to the harassments at sea and insisted recent tense stand-offs in the disputed area highlighted his nation’s “courage.”

“We shall continue to assert our rights in accordance with the Philippine Constitution and international law,” President Marcos said following Beijing’s warning, adding that recent confrontations in the sea were a “demonstration of Filipino courage against coercion and our firm resolve to protect, preserve and uphold our territorial integrity.”

He told the nation’s troops yesterday to continue asserting the country’s sovereign rights amid the geopolitical tensions in the region.

During the 88th anniversary celebration of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, Mr. Marcos hailed the military’s “responsible and dignified behavior despite the many attempts at provocation.”

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and DFA Secretary Enrique Manalo

“You (AFP) have become crucial as in the past years, the Philippines has found itself in the middle of geopolitical developments and tensions that could potentially cause regional insecurity or endanger people’s lives and livelihoods,” the President said.

“But despite the many attempts at provocation, the Philippines—through the AFP—remains a force and a voice of reason, exemplifying responsible and dignified behavior in resolving issues in accordance with international law,” he added.

“The recent incidents involving no less than our AFP Chief of Staff is worrisome,” the President stressed, mentioning Armed Forces Chief General Romeo Brawner, who was on a supply ship on a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal when it was water-cannoned by a China Coast Guard ship.

“Yes, but it is a proud demonstration of Filipino courage againstcoercion and our firm resolve to protect, preserve, and uphold our territorial integrity,” the President continued.

At a briefing in Beijing, Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said:

“We hope that the Philippines can make a rational choice, follow the effective way of getting along with neighbors, and work with China to properly handle and manage the current maritime situation.”

His comments followed a phone call in which China’s top diplomat Wang Yi told Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo that the two countries were “facing serious difficulties,” blaming Manila for changing its policies.

“The root cause is that the Philippines has changed its longstanding policy stance, reneged on its own commitments, continued to provoke and stir trouble at sea, and undermined China’s legal rights.

“China-Philippines relations are at a crossroads. Faced with the choice of where to go, the Philippines must act with caution,” the readout said.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea and has ignored an international tribunal ruling that its assertions have no legal basis.

It deploys boats to patrol the busy waterway and has built artificial islands that it has militarized to reinforce its claims.

Manalo described his call with Wang as “frank and candid,” according to a readout released by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Thursday.

“We had a frank and candid exchange and ended our call with a clearer understanding of our respective positions on a number of issues,” the readout quoted Manalo as saying.

“We both noted the importance of dialogue in addressing these issues.”

Envoy summoned

Relations between Manila and Beijing have frayed under President Marcos, who has sought to improve ties with traditional ally Washington and deepen defense cooperation in the region, while also pushing back against Chinese actions in the South China Sea.

The Philippines summoned China’s envoy on Dec. 11 and flagged the possibility of expelling him following the latest clashes.

The videos released by the Philippines were of incidents during two separate resupply missions to fishermen at Scarborough Shoal and a tiny garrison at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal the previous weekend.

There was also a collision between Philippine and Chinese boats at Ayungin Shoal, where a handful of Filipino troops are stationed on a grounded warship, with both countries trading blame.

Mr. Marcos met Chinese leader Xi Jinping last month on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit in San Francisco, where the pair discussed the maritime territorial disputes.

Mr. Marcos later told a forum in Hawaii the Philippines would not give up “a single square inch of our territory.”

State-run Xinhua has quoted Wang as saying that the Philippines and

China relations are currently facing “severe difficulties” over the country’s change in its policy stance.

Wang noted that the bilateral relationship between the two countries “now stands at a crossroads, with its future yet to be decided” and that the Philippines side “must act with caution.”

He said China is ready to resolve differences through dialogue and consultation but warned that if the country “misjudges the situation, goes its own way, or even colludes with ill-intentioned external forces to continue to stir up troubles, China will defend its rights in accordance with law and respond resolutely.”

Manila earlier asked China to stop lingering in waters around Ayungin Shoal, a feature in the South China Sea situated within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

This month alone, it protested the Chinese Coast Guard’s aggressive actions that led to collision, illegal shadowing, and undue use of water cannons during the country’s rotation and resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal on Dec. 10.

A day before, China also used water cannons against three Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessels that were providing fuel and groceries to Filipinos fishing at Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal).

During their phone call, the Chinese side said Manalo and Wang agreed to actively create “favorable conditions” for the next Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) on the South China Sea.

The last BCM was held in March. Also on Thursday, AFP chief Brawner said the Philippines is one with other nations in ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific Region.

Brawner made this commitment in a teleconference with Japan Self-Defense Force joint chief of staff Gen. Yoshida Yoshihide. During their meeting, the two officials discussed “pressing regional security matters and developments in the Philippine-Japan defense partnership.”

“The meeting demonstrates the AFP’s commitment to strengthening its partnership with like-minded nations and drawing support for the advancement of a rules-based international order and a free and open Indo-Pacific Region,” AFP public affairs office chief Col. Xerxes Trinidad said in a statement.

The military officials also celebrated the transfer of a Japanese air surveillance radar system to the Philippines and expressed support for the immediate finalization of the reciprocal access agreement to allow more interoperable cooperation between the two maritime nations.

“They also stressed the importance of alliance-building to counter aggression, such as the incidents in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) on Dec. 10.

They also lauded the recent conclusion of the Multilateral Staff Talks with Australia and the United States in Tokyo.

Yoshida also conveyed Japan’s support to the 2016 Arbitral Ruling and expressed their strong opposition to actions that alter the status quo,” Trinidad added.

Meanwhile, the co-convener of the Atin Ito Coalition, Rafaela David, said its civilian convoy carrying supplies to frontliners in the West Philippine Sea will not back down from Chinese aggression in the country’s waters.

David said the Dec. 10 supply mission to the West Philippine Sea was just an inaugural mission “because ordinary Filipinos should be able to visit its own seas.”

“We want to send a strong message to China that we are united, from the government to the citizens from different sectors and generations, we are all united,” she said in Filipino. “We will not be bullied by China.”

The civilian-led convoy that was supposed to bring gifts and donations to Philippine troops and residents in the West Philippine Sea returned to El Nido, Palawan on Dec. 10 after being shadowed by two Chinese Navy ships, one Chinese Coast Guard vessel, and one Chinese cargo ship.

David said a second civilian convoy is being eyed in summer when the seas are calmer. She said the convoy will coordinate with the Philippine Coast Guard to ensure the safety of the mission.

US help eyed

Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez on Thursday urged President Marcos to seek the help of the United States in preventing future Chinese attacks on Philippine vessels in the WPS.

The Mindanao lawmaker made the appeal in response to the President’s statement calling for a paradigm shift in dealing with Chinese aggression in the WPS. “I support the President’s call.

We should be done protesting Beijing’s continued harassment and bullying of our Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) personnel, our fishermen, our small contingent of soldiers in Ayungin Shoal, and our civilian boat crew involved in resupply missions. Our numerous and repeated protestations have fallen on deaf ears,” he said.

“We Filipinos have long been patient, but our patience has a limit,” he said in Filipino. Rodriguez, chair of the House committee on constitutional amendments, said in exploring a new tack, the President should consider consulting with its defense treaty ally, the US, in tackling future Chinese aggressive activities in the WPS. — With AFP

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