Rody ‘abhors’ Ayungin attack

Blasts Beijing for unfriendly act in remarks at Asean-China Summit

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday condemned the latest flare-up in the West Philippine Sea after Chinese coast guard ships fired water cannons at Filipino boats.

Duterte made the remarks at the ASEAN-China summit hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who vowed his country would “never seek hegemony, and certainly not bully the small.” 

“We abhor the recent event in the Ayungin Shoal and view with grave concern other similar developments,” Duterte told the meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China, using the Filipino name for the shoal.

“This does not speak well of the relations between our nations and our partnership.”

Duterte’s remarks were unusually strong for a leader who has fostered warmer ties with Beijing since taking power in 2016 in the hope of extracting promised investment and trade.

It is not clear if Xi was participating in the meeting when Duterte spoke.

China claims almost all of the waterway, through which trillions of dollars in trade passes annually, with competing claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Beijing has ignored a 2016 ruling by The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration that its historical claim is without basis.

Tensions over the resource-rich sea spiked last week when Chinese coast guard vessels fired water cannon at Filipino boats delivering supplies to Marines in Ayungin Shoal, which is well-within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Manila expressed outrage at the incident, but Beijing said the Philippine boats had entered its waters without permission.

The renewed tensions over the waters have drawn international concern.

The United States on Friday warned China that an armed attack against Philippine public vessels would invite a US response under its treaty obligations to the Southeast Asian nation.

The European Union also called on “all parties to respect freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea.”

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the supply boats would resume their mission to Ayungin Shoal after China’s ambassador to the Philippines gave assurances they would not be impeded.

China controls several reefs in the South China Sea, including Scarborough Shoal -- which Beijing seized from Manila in 2012 -- just 240 kilometers west of Luzon.

It has asserted its stance by building up small shoals and reefs into military bases with airstrips and port facilities.

After China occupied Mischief Reef in the mid-1990s, the Philippines marooned a derelict navy vessel atop the nearby Second Thomas Shoal to assert Manila’s territorial claim. Members of the Philippine marines are based there.

Duterte, who participated in the special summit of state leaders from the ASEAN and the People’s Republic of China, urged his counterparts to exercise “utmost self-restraint” and to “avoid the escalation of tensions” among sea claimants.

He added that stakeholders must avoid the escalation of tension and work towards the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law.

“There is simply no other way out of this colossal problem but the rule of law,” the President said.

Duterte cited the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 Arbitral Award, which he said, “provides legal clarity… pointing us to a just and fair solution to our disputes.”

“We must fully utilize these legal tools to ensure that the South China Sea remains a sea of peace, stability and prosperity,” he added.

He also urged China to remain committed to the conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

Ayungin Shoal is part of the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), which is an integral part of the Philippines, as well as Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, and over which the Philippines has sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction.

The European Union on Monday registered its strong objection against “any unilateral actions” that would endanger peace, security and stability in the South China Sea after Chinese coastguard vessels blocked and water cannoned Philippine supply boats in Ayungin Shoal.

“The European Union reiterates its strong opposition to any unilateral actions that endanger peace, security and stability in the region and the international rules-based order,” EU spokesperson Nabila Massrali, said in a statement.

“This episode follows other unilateral actions by vessels of the People’s Republic of China in the South China Sea over the past months,” Massrali added.

The EU “emphasizes the importance for all parties to respect freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea,” she said.

The EU urged all stakeholders involved to resolve disputes through “peaceful means” in accordance with international law, in particular the UNCLOS, including its dispute settlement mechanisms.

“In this context, the European Union recalls the Arbitration Award rendered under UNCLOS on 12 July 2016, which found that Second Thomas Shoal lies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf,” Massrali said.

The EU also backed the effort led by Southeast Asian countries towards a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, which “should be effective, substantive and legally binding, and not prejudice the interests of third parties.”

Earlier, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said he spoke to Chinese ambassador Huang Xilian and to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing to protest and condemn the incident in Ayungin Shoal, reminding them that a public vessel is covered by the Mutual Defense Treaty between Manila and Washington.

China insisted that its coast guard was just performing “official duties in accordance with the law.”

Also on Monday, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon on Monday said more forces are needed to strengthen the Philippines’ claim over the West Philippine Sea amid China’s aggression.

Interviewed on Dobol B TV, Esperon said the government needs to send additional forces there from the Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

Esperon, who chairs the National Task Force West Philippine Sea, said Filipino soldiers in the area, though their numbers are limited, will not back down from any foreign aggression.

Esperon also proposed fortifying the country’s stations in the area, strengthening the multilateral alliances, and having a dialogue with China.

A maritime affairs expert, Dr. Jay Batongbacal said the next leader of the Philippines should not be “naive” when it comes to relations with China amid maritime disputes between the two countries.

He said in next year’s elections, Filipinos should not vote for a leader who is too naive and easily fooled by China, noting that the none of the promised benefits from Beijing has materialized.

In the House, deputy minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said Duterte was the reason China is more aggressive now.

“The buck also stops with Malacañang. China’s aggressiveness in the WPS and inside our own territory is also largely a product of the so-called ‘soft landing’ and ‘pivot to China’ foreign policies of the Duterte administration since 2016. China has become even more emboldened with its imperialist actions in the WPS because of the vassal-like attitude of the Duterte administration,” Zarate said.

“President Duterte’s statement now should be coupled with a clear policy statement stopping his skewed appeasement policy that only resulted in China’s aggressive, even unchecked expansionism. Otherwise, it can be interpreted as just a political stunt since elections are fast approaching and he again wants to court the Filipino peoples’ votes for him and his candidates,” he said.

He said Bayan Muna is proposing the following concrete measures:

* Deployment of more troops to the Kalayaan Group of Islands;

* Deployment of more coast guard ships to the contested areas; and

* Rehabilitation of the airstrip in Pag-asa island at the soonest possible time.

“It has been established that China’s expansionist policy based on its 9-dash line theory has been proven without legal, historical and moral basis. Every Filipino here or abroad should defend our territory and exclusive economic zones.

“There are so many ways to stand up for our country without going to war. We should use these options now rather than surrender our right to our EEZ and the lives and livelihood of our people,” Zarate said. With AFP

Topics: Rodrigo Duterte , Xi Jinping , West Philippine Sea , ASEAN-China summit
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