CHINA should earn the trust of Filipinos, newly appointed Defense Secretary Gilberto “Gibo” Teodoro Jr. said on Thursday, as the Philippines seeks to expand its alliance with “nontraditional” partners in the face of Beijing’s growing aggression in staking its claim in the South China Sea.
“As a stronger country, it has the bigger obligation to be magnanimous and show trust, and to earn the trust of the Filipino people, by conforming its activities to recognize norms of international law, which in our case is Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea),” Teodoro said during a Malacañang press briefing.
“We’re talking about the arbitral award. It has already been stated by our two past presidents that our rights and our territory are defined by Unclos, and it has been stated too that this cannot be fritted away or bargained away by passages of administration or passage of time,” he said.
The Philippines scored a victory against China in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands in 2016 when the court rejected Beijing’s claim over nearly the entire South China Sea as illegal.
Beijing has ignored the ruling and continued to beef up its presence in the contested waterway.
Teodoro said the arbitral tribunal is an impartial and independent body.
He also said China could have presented its side if they participated in the proceedings.
“It was done by an independent arbitral tribunal of experts in international law where had China participated, it would have had a chance to demonstrate its legal position in a fair and impartial proceeding. So in that same vein, we have to follow transparent procedures, and that is the best way to build trust,” Teodoro said.
He also recognized that Beijing is a “big market” for Manila, and that even the United States acknowledges it.
“Relations between two countries are not mono-dimensional; there are other relationships that we need to build up. China is a big market for this country and we realize that and, I think the United States realizes it too,” Teodoro said.
“We live in a more conflicted world where we hope that even in the Ukraine-Russia problem, our supply chain are affected, being a net importer country. So I really hope that the benefit of everybody as world citizens will outweigh other interest,” he said. As the new Defense chief, Teodoro said he is pushing for “deconfliction” to resolve the country’s territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
“If we can talk, we should talk,” he said.
Teodoro echoed President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s position that the country’s move to boost its defensive capabilities is “for purely defensive purposes and deterrent purposes.” He said establishing a credible deterrence, establishing the ability to defend itself is the Philippines’ own business, and its allies must live with that.
Marcos has reiterated that the Philippines will not give up an inch of territory to China.
He also said Manila is adopting a “neutral foreign policy” by not siding with any country.
The Philippines, along with China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan have overlapping claims in the South China Sea.
The President also ordered Teodoro to look for nontraditional partners in the areas of trade and security and defense.
Teodoro said the Philippines is courting partners who “will jibe with our national security, territorial integrity and interoperability.” Speaking in Filipino, Teodoro said that “as of now, it is but natural to talk to our treaty ally, the United States.” “We also know, however, that we have been talking to Israel, Japan, Korea and recently to Sweden with whom we signed an MoU (memorandum of understanding) that was signed by Secretary Galvez at the Shari-la dialogue,” Teodoro said.
“I think the marching order is to look for a proper fit whatever serves our needs and whatever will jibe with our national security, territorial integrity and interoperability with our present complement,” he said. — Catherine S. Valente
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