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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Beijing’s gunboat diplomacy must stop

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President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s recent statement that he would assert the 2016 decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration favoring Manila against Beijing’s sweeping claims to virtually the entire South China Sea is most welcome.

In fact, two of the most outspoken critics of the stand taken by the outgoing Duterte administration on the issue are elated over this turn of events.

Former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio said Marcos has taken “the only correct position that any president of the Philippines can take” and his 180-degree turn from an earlier stand represents “a dramatic and surprising sea change on the West Philippine Sea issue.”

Former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who led Manila’s arbitration team in The Hague, also welcomed Marcos’ statement, saying it was his “fervent hope” that President Duterte’s successor would stand by his words to protect the West Philippine Sea for the benefit of Filipinos.

At the same time, we commend the Department of Foreign Affairs for protesting the return of over 100 Chinese vessels illegally operating in the waters in and around Julian Felipe Reef in April this year, or a year after the same swarming incident was protested by the Philippine Government.

The DFA is entirely correct in urging China “to comply with its obligations under international law, cease and desist from displaying illegal and irresponsible behavior, avoid further escalating tensions at sea and immediately withdraw all of its vessels from Philippine maritime zones. ”

The Philippines is also well within its right to protest China’s “unilateral” fishing ban lasting for over three months in areas of the South China Sea, including parts of the West Philippine Sea, as it “undermines mutual trust, confidence, and respect.”

The DFA filed the protest last month, and urged China to “cease and desist from the conduct of illegal actions that violate the Philippines’ sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction in its maritime zones.”

Strong words, indeed, from our DFA, but will Beijing listen?

In their telesummit last April 8, President Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping reaffirmed their commitment to resolving issues of mutual concern through peaceful dialogue and to exercise restraint in any and all endeavors relating to the South China Sea.

We cannot understand, therefore, why the Chinese Coast Guard and coastal militia vessels have been deployed in parts of the West Philippine Sea to keep our Coast Guard at bay and prevent our fishermen from approaching areas where they can catch fish to feed their families.

This is out-and-out gunboat diplomacy that has no place in a rules-based order and does not contribute to the maintenance of peace and stability in the region.

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