PH envoy bares Manila coordinated with Washington after incident
Washington has expressed concern over the confrontation between Filipino and Chinese personnel near Pag-asa Island over the weekend, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said Thursday.
Romualdez told radio dzBB the Philippines coordinated with the US government after Naval Station Emilio Liwanag (NSEL) and the Chinese Coast Guard had a confrontation off Pag-asa Island on Sunday.
That was when the Chinese, according to the Philippine Navy and Department of Defense, “forcefully took” an unidentified floating object that Philippine forces had retrieved, a report the Chinese embassy denied, saying the object was taken after “friendly consultation” on both sides.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said Thursday the country sent China a note verbale to seek clarification on the incident.
Manalo said the government wanted an “official comment” from the Chinese side after the Chinese Embassy in Manila denied the report that came from the Western Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“Now, depending on how the reply comes out, then we will have to see what to do. But definitely, in order to begin the process, we would like to get an official comment from China, especially in response to our note,” Manalo said in an interview with CNN Philippines.
A note verbale does not equate to a diplomatic protest yet, Manalo noted.
On Nov. 20, personnel of Naval Station Emilio Liwanag (NSEL) went to the waters off Pag-asa Island to retrieve what turned out to be rocket wreckage from China after noticing it through a long-range camera drifting towards Pag-asa Island’s Cay 1 sandbar.
However, members of the Chinese Coast Guard supposedly approached them and “blocked their pre-plotted course twice” before “forcefully” retrieving the object by cutting the towing line attached to the NSEL rubber boat, the AFP report read.
China, through its embassy in Manila, denied the report, saying its coast guard took the object after a “friendly consultation.” It also claimed that AFP’s reports “are irrelevant with facts.”
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. earlier said the note verbale would determine why the version of Chinese authorities of the incident in Pag-asa was different from that of the Philippine Navy.
The Philippines has lodged 189 diplomatic protests against China so far this year, the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Thursday, as Beijing continued to press its stance in contested waters.
The DFA made the statement after Manila asked Beijing to explain its seizure of a rocket part.
“As of 22 November, the DFA has issued 189 protests; 61 of which were made during the current administration. The figures are for 2022,” DFA spokesperson Teresita Daza said in a text message.
The South China Sea is a longstanding source of tensions between the two nations.
Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire sea and has ignored an arbitral tribunal ruling that its claims have no legal basis. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei have overlapping claims to parts of it.
Hundreds of Chinese coast guard and maritime militia vessels prowl the waters, swarming reefs, harassing and attacking fishing and other boats, and interfering in oil and gas exploration as well as scientific research.
Last November, Chinese coastguard ships fired water cannon at Philippine boats delivering supplies to marines at Second Thomas Shoal in the same archipelago.
Mr. Marcos, who took office in June, said he would not let China trample on the Philippines’ maritime rights.
The President said his planned visit to China in January could be an opportunity to find a way to avoid further incidents.
Meanwhile, Manalo said negotiations on a code of conduct (COC) in the South China Sea will resume next year.
Manalo said talks were stalled for at least two years due to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They will most likely continue again next year. In fact, the talks, the negotiations actually, not just talks, are actually taking place on a regular schedule,” he said in a CNN interview.
“The problem is when COVID came, there was a two-year gap in the negotiations because there were no in-person meetings, but they are now continuing.”
At least two or three rounds of negotiations are expected to take place in 2023, Manalo said.
He expressed hope that talks could conclude in one or two years but admitted that “technical issues” are a challenge to the negotiations.
“It’s quite a technical exercise because it would really be a code. What’s important in our point of view is that it should be substantive and effective,” Manalo said. “My hope is in one or two years but just another issue is, of course, this involves negotiations among 11 countries. All I can say is we will do our best to conclude it at the earliest possible time.”
Association of Southeast Asian Nations Secretary General Dato Paduka Lim Jock Hoi last month said China and the bloc are working on the COC’s second draft.