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US rips ‘unsafe’ China ships

Ramps up rhetoric after WPS near-crash ahead of PBBM Washington trip

The United States called on China Saturday to stop “provocative and unsafe conduct” in the disputed South China Sea after a recent near-collision with a Philippine Coast Guard boat there, ramping up rhetoric ahead of a visit by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to the White House.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller, in a statement two days before President Joe Biden is to host President Marcos, said the incident was a reminder of China’s “harassment and intimidation” of Philippine vessels in the contested waterway.

“We call upon Beijing to desist from its provocative and unsafe conduct,” he said, adding that any attack on Philippine armed forces would trigger a US response.

Biden has been working to bolster relations with Asian allies as the US-Chinese relationship remains in a historically deep chill, and the Philippines’ proximity to key sea lanes and Taiwan gives it particular strategic importance.

The near-miss Sunday off the Spratly Islands was the latest in a long string of maritime incidents between China and the Philippines.

Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, ignoring an international ruling that the assertion has no legal basis and finding for the Philippines in its territorial dispute with China.

The Agence France-Presse was one of several media outlets that witnessed the incident after journalists were invited to join two Philippine Coast Guard boats on a six-day patrol of the waters, visiting a dozen islands and reefs.

The Philippine vessels approached Second Thomas Shoal, known in the Philippines as Ayungin and in China as Ren’ai Jiao, in the Spratly archipelago.

As one boat, the BRP Malapascua, which was carrying Filipino journalists, neared the shoal, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel more than twice its size sailed into its path.

AFP journalists watched the incident from the other Philippine Coast Guard boat, which was less than a kilometer away.

The Malapascua’s commanding officer said the Chinese ship came within 45 meters of his boat and only his quick actions avoided the steel-hulled vessels crashing into each other.

The Chinese foreign ministry said Friday that the Philippine boats had “intruded” without China’s permission and called it a “premeditated and provocative action.”

But Manila hit back, saying that “routine patrols in our own waters can be neither premeditated nor provocative” and insisting they will continue to conduct the patrols.

The near-miss came just a day after Marcos hosted Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang for talks in Manila aimed at defusing tensions in the waterway.

Marcos has insisted he will not let China trample on the Philippines’ rights in the sea and has gravitated toward the United States as he seeks to strengthen defense ties. This was in stark contrast to his predecessor, President Rodrigo Duterte, who appeased the Chinese and shunned the Americans.

Early this month, the Philippines identified four additional military bases —in addition to five existing sites—to which US forces will have access, including one near the Spratly Islands.

The two countries also carried out their biggest-ever military maneuvers in recent weeks.

This shift has alarmed China, which has accused Washington of trying to drive a wedge between Beijing and Manila.

US-Philippine ties were badly frayed under Marcos’s predecessor, Duterte.

Marcos has sought to allay public fears that the reviving alliance with the US could bring the Philippines into the conflict if China were to invade Taiwan.

He has said that with Biden he will discuss the “need to tone down the rhetoric” over the South China Sea, Taiwan, and North Korea.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said earlier in the month that Biden intended, in the meeting with Marcos, to “reaffirm the United States’ ironclad commitment to the defense of the Philippines.”

On Sunday, Ambassador to Washington Jose Manuel Romualdez said complications arising from a possible China-US conflict cannot be avoided.

“The implications to the Philippines of the China-US dispute over Taiwan are unavoidable if something happens, even if we say we are not directly involved, and it will also affect the entire ASEAN region,” Romualdez said in Filipino in an interview on radio dzBB.

“We can’t avoid getting dragged into it somehow. That’s what we are discussing with our friends in the ASEAN. They know the importance of the China-US tension not erupting into serious conflict,” he added.

In the case of the Philippines, Romualdez said, the country is only strengthening its defense.

Romualdez said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will be ready to defend the country with full force against threats in the next three to five years with the assistance being provided by the United States.

Filipino soldiers are now better trained and better equipped than before, he said, in the wake of the recently concluded 2023 Balikatan Exercise between the armed forces of the Philippines and the US.

“I think, and many also think about it here in America, that within the next three to five years, our Armed Forces will be better. They [will be] ready to defend our country with full force.”

This year’s Balikatan was the biggest iteration of the joint military exercises, with more than 17,600 participants, including 12,200 US troops and 5,400 Philippine soldiers.

Meanwhile, Senator Jinggoy Estrada, who heads the Senate defense committee, said the Philippines must work with regional allies and form an alliance with them to deal with Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea.

Estrada said Chinese bullying such as the latest near-collision has happened over a hundred times.

“We file diplomatic protests. We have filed hundreds of diplomatic protests, but nothing has happened,” Estrada said.

Senator JV Ejercito also lamented China’s bullying tactics, despite their insistence that they are an “ally and a friend” to the Philippines.

He acknowledged that the Philippines cannot match China militarily, “so they are really bullying us and slowly taking over our territory.”

Estrada said this was why the country must form an alliance with “right-thinking nations” — countries who are allies and who are also being bullied, like Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

This alliance can then work with Australia and the United States, he said.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, a member of the Senate defense panel, also called on the Philippines to “actively and boldly” pursue larger alliances.

A broader alliance is a better alliance, she said.

“Let us urgently work on building this bigger coalition of countries who are against China’s misbehavior, who uphold our victory at The Hague, and who want to preserve peace and stability in the region,” she said.

“We must also seriously look into reviewing our national policy towards China,” she further stated.

In the House, Batangas Rep. Ralph Recto said China’s acts of aggression in the West Philippine Sea must be met with indignation atevery turn because not doing so would play into Beijing’s game plan that the Philippines would eventually tire out from protesting.

“Even if we have to wallpaper the Great Wall with diplomatic protests, we should continue because once we show any sign of wavering, it normalizes China’s misbehavior inside our territory,” he said.

“Even if they are deaf, we have to blow our whistle again and again.

At least, the whole world would hear,” he added.

— Macon Ramos-Araneta and Rio N. Araja with AFP and Vince Lopez


Credit belongs to : www.manilastandard.net


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