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Saturday, February 24, 2024

‘China Artificial Islands Nearing Philippines Coasts’

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Chinese military facilities on reclaimed land features in the West Philippine Sea have come alarmingly close to the country’s coastlines, President Marcos said yesterday as he expressed concern over what he called “false narratives,” “coercive tactics” and “dangerous maneuvers” aimed at restricting activities in Philippine territorial waters.

In his remarks at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Marcos said the Philippines has to work with its allies, including treaty partner United States, to maintain peace in the South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea. The Philippines calls its area in the South China Sea the West Philippine Sea.

Marcos did not specifically mention China, but he was apparently referring to the Asian giant, which had reclaimed numerous land features in the West Philippine Sea and turned them into bases and fortresses from which Chinese aircraft and ships are deployed to harass Philippine vessels and fishing boats.

He said tensions in the West Philippine Sea are growing, with “persistent unlawful threats and challenges” against the Philippines’ sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf.

Such actions, he said, were violations of international law, specifically the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and were inconsistent with the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea.

Marcos lamented that progress has been slow in the crafting of a code of conduct for South China Sea claimants.

He revealed that the Philippines has approached other countries in the region with which it has disputes like Vietnam and Malaysia “to make our own code of conduct.”

“Supported by the rules-based international order and our growing partnerships, both time-tested and new ones, we will insist on the preservation of the sovereignty and integrity of the country, while working closely with international partners in the bilateral, regional and multilateral settings in developing rules and processes to address these challenges,” the President said.

Marcos described the role of the Philippines’ alliance with the US as “critical,” noting that Washington is Manila’s most traditional ally and sole treaty partner.

“The increasing tensions in the South China Sea require that we partner with our allies and our friends around the world so as to come to some kind of resolution and to maintain the peace,” he said.

Marcos said the Philippines appreciates the “concrete manifestations” of the US of its continued support as well as the growing number of foreign partners backing the Philippines’ position.

“So, I have said it before and I will say it again, the Philippines will not give a single square inch of our territory to any foreign power. The law is clear as defined by the UNCLOS and the final and binding 2016 Award on the South China Sea Arbitration,” he added.

Marcos was referring to the ruling of an arbitral court based in The Hague, which voided China’s expansive maritime claim in the resource-rich South China Sea and affirmed the Philippines’ sovereign rights over its EEZ.

China vowed not to recognize the landmark ruling, calling it a mere piece of paper.

Unlawful activities

Marcos detailed unlawful activities in the West Philippine Sea that endanger lives and harm the environment.

He said the Philippines’ regular routine and resupply missions in Ayungin Shoal are subjected to “coercive tactics and dangerous maneuvers” by Chinese coast guard and maritime militia vessels.

The President also cited the “rampant illegal, unreported and unregulated” fishing and militarization of reclaimed features in the South China Sea.

He said recent Philippine inspection of Escoda (Sabina) and Romulo (Iroquois) Reefs revealed a “direct correlation between the presence of maritime militia vessels and reef damage in those features.”

“If only for that, the impact on biodiversity and the environment are… I’m afraid are assessed as possibly already irreversible. This imperils livelihoods. This imperils the future generations of Filipinos,” Marcos said.

“The strong, factual messaging in support of our lawful exercise of our rights under international law, and which will call out recent incidents in our EEZ, it demonstrates the strength of our alliance and partnership and challenges attempts to perpetuate false narratives,” the President said.

However, Marcos argued that rhetoric is not enough to ensure security in the West Philippine Sea.

“We need to upgrade our defense and civilian law enforcement capabilities not only to defend ourselves but also to enable us to become a reliable partner in promoting and guaranteeing regional security. That would require greater substantial infusions into funding streams needed for our armed forces and coast guard modernization plans, including lines of effort to enhance cyber cooperation,” the Chief Executive said.

“I am optimistic from our recent engagements with our American counterparts, including US legislators, and certainly in the executive department, to elevate our partnership and dedicate resources to match our commitments,” he pointed out.

Marcos said the Philippines and the US have been working on a bilateral planning and tracking mechanism that is seen to accelerate concrete and substantial capability development investments and activities to meet shared defense and security objectives over the next five years.

The defense chiefs of the two countries also met in Jakarta on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Defense Ministers Meeting Plus, to discuss efforts to further strengthen their alliance, he added.

“Our growing network of partners, including Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the UK, European Union will serve as force multipliers which will help us bring our country closer to the vision of a peaceful, secure and prosperous nation, within a secure and prosperous region,” Marcos said.

“So, I hope to continue this dialogue with all of you as we make our way on this principled path that we have chosen.”

Marcos delivered his strongly worded statements days after his meeting in San Francisco with Chinese President Xi Jinping, with whom he discussed ways to lessen the tensions in the West Philippine Sea.

Before delivering his remarks, Marcos visited the headquarters of the US Indo Pacific Command, the first Philippine president to do so, according to Malacañang.

He also visited the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, where he offered a wreath to honor those who died during the attack by Japanese forces on Dec. 7, 1941.

Myanmar

In an interview at the same forum, President Marcos described the conflict in Myanmar as a “very, very difficult problem” of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“There is a great deal of impetus for ASEAN to solve this problem. But it is a very, very difficult problem,” the President said.

According to Marcos, the Philippines is interested in the developments in Myanmar because Filipinos were among those being trafficked to the conflict-torn country.

More than two million people have been displaced by the clashes between ethnic armed groups and the Myanmar military, according to the United Nations.

ASEAN members had criticized Myanmar’s junta for failing to achieve significant gains on a plan that was supposed to address a crisis that stemmed from a military coup that unseated an elected civilian government.

The junta has been prohibited from participating in ASEAN summits since 2022. Myanmar has been replaced by the Philippines as the event’s host for 2026.

During the ASEAN Retreat in Jakarta last September, Marcos said one test of the regional bloc’s relevance is its ability to facilitate a peaceful resolution to the Myanmar problem.

He stressed that ASEAN’s significance in the international stage can only be maintained so long as it can show the rest of the world that it continues to be “a force for positive change.”

“We remain firm that the resolution to the Myanmar crisis should be Myanmar-owned and Myanmar-led. We continue to support the efforts of the ASEAN Chair to engage all stakeholders in Myanmar,” he said.

“We reiterate that all efforts in Myanmar should be in line with the five-point consensus and done in coordination with the Chair of ASEAN,” he added.

Source: Philstar

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