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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Austin blasts China’s WPS actions as ‘irresponsible’

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Defense chiefs from the US, Australia, Japan and the Philippines vowed to deepen cooperation and increase the tempo of joint military exercises amid concerns over China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea.

The Hawaii meeting came a month after the four countries held their first joint naval exercises in the South China Sea.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III, in particular, hit China’s “irresponsible” actions in the West Philippine Sea.

“The kind of behavior we’ve seen where Filipino crews are put in danger, sailors have been injured and property damaged—that’s irresponsible behavior, and that disregards international law,” Austin said.

China Coast Guard on Tuesday used a water cannon in Panatag Shoal against a Philippine Coast Guard ship.

Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles, for his part, said: “Today, the meetings that we have held represent a very significant message to the region and to the world about four democracies which are committed to the global rules-based order.”

Austin hosted the defense chiefs at the US Indo-Pacific Command at Camp H.M. Smith.

In Manila, the Department of Foreign Affairs on Friday debunked the claims of China that it is being used as a “pawn” by the United States.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo, in a speech delivered for him by DFA Assistant Secretary Marshall Louis Alferez, said there are “some that want to project the WPS as a matter between great powers,” and that the Philippines is just one of the “pawns in this game.”

Manalo denied this notion.

He said making such a pronouncement is only “a simplistic way of explaining a complex issue,” which he said is “designed to manipulate people into being disengaged.”

According to the DFA chief, the Philippines is “not (a) bystander (in this) situation” as it needs “to act to protect our interests and we need to act as cohesively as possible – by rejecting counternarratives that seek to distract us from our objectives.”

The country’s top diplomat lamented the narrative that has surrounded the WPS issue “for far too long.”

He noted that such perspective is being “obscured by misinformation and manipulation,” and sows discord among various nations and peoples.

The Philippines has been asserting its rights over the West Philippine Sea, which is affirmed by the 2016 Arbitral Ruling and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Manalo said the Philippines “must expose the illegality of the nine-dash line that is being used as the basis for threatening the livelihoods of our fishermen through harassment and intimidation, and for reclamation activities that degrade the environment in these vital waters.”

“We should not allow ourselves to be painted as the aggressors or the violators,” he said, adding that the country’s role in doing so is “firm.”

“We stand firm on the foundation of international law… We categorically reject the excessive claims and aggressive actions by the People’s Republic of China in the WPS,” Manalo added.

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