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Stop harassing us, says Manalo; PH’s words ‘consistent’ — envoy

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Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo on Monday said the Philippines wants to solve maritime disputes with China peacefully — but delivered a simple message to Beijing: “Stop harassing us.”

Speaking on the sidelines of ASEAN-Australia summit in Melbourne, Manalo defended Manila’s policy of publicizing Chinese maneuvers in contested maritime territory, including the recent passage of warships near Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal.

“It’s merely trying to inform the people of what’s going on,” Manalo said. “And some countries or one country at least has some difficulty with that.”

“But our simple explanation is if you would stop harassing us and, and perhaps performing other actions, there wouldn’t be any news to report,” he added.

In Washington, the Philippine Embassy in the US rejected China’s allegation that Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez serves as mouthpiece for “another country,” as it accused him of spreading false information against Beijing in connection with its claims over the disputed South China Sea.

In a statement, the embassy said Romualdez’s remarks last week on the developments in the South China Sea “have been consistent with the position expressed by the Philippine government’s highest officials, particularly regarding the threat posed by unlawful, aggressive and provocative actions of the Chinese Coast Guard and Chinese maritime militia against Philippine vessels and personnel and Filipino fishermen.”

Romualdez earlier said the dispute in the South China Sea and not the tension in Taiwan was Asia’s “real flashpoint” for a major armed conflict.

He described it as the “most difficult challenge” Manila has faced since World War II.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea as its territory, brushing aside claims from a host of Southeast Asian nations.

Scarborough Shoal — a triangular chain of reefs and rocks in the disputed South China Sea — has been a flashpoint between the countries since China seized it from the Philippines in 2012.

“The Philippines is committed to a peaceful resolution of disputes through diplomatic means, or peaceful means,” Manalo said, while insisting “this will not be done at the expense of our national interest.”

“We are reaching out to partners in like-minded countries with similar issues and similar concerns,” he said.

But Manalo acknowledged there were was at least a small question mark over support from the Philippines’ most important security partner — the United States.

The two countries are treaty allies, meaning Washington has formally pledged to come to Manila’s defense in the event of a military conflict.

Manalo said ensuring peace in the South China Sea is a collective responsibility and stewardship.

‘’For the South China Sea and the seas and oceans of the Indo-Pacific to be unifying domains of peace, stability, and prosperity, we need to gather more strongly around a collective responsibility, as well as a shared sense of stewardship,’’ he said during the maritime cooperation forum at the sidelines of the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit.

‘’Solidarity around the rule of law, particularly the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is the necessary starting point for this. UNCLOS, as the Constitution for the Oceans, provides the fundamental anchor for cooperation in the maritime domain, and for resolving maritime disputes,’’ he said.

‘’It also calls for us to stand firmly together in opposing actions that contradict or are inconsistent with international law,’’ Manalo added.

Ask about the November election — which will pit incumbent Joe Biden against Republican firebrand Donald Trump, he said it was a topic of frequent debate behind closed doors.

“Every country in the world is probably thinking of that, of course. The United States is a major, it’s a treaty ally of the Philippines. So obviously, any differences or changes in US policy from existing policies would most likely have some kind of effect,” Manalo said.

“At this stage it’s fairly difficult to assess how it would happen, or what would happen. But all I can say is we are, of course, carefully monitoring the election season in the United States, but I’ve had talks with many of my other colleagues from other countries, and I think everybody is doing the same.”

“So certainly all eyes will be riveted on that election this year,” he added. With AFP


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