June 13, 2022
MANILA — President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has called China the country’s “strongest partner” in its efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic despite Beijing’s continued intrusion into Philippine waters which Manila has repeatedly protested against.
Speaking before members and guests of the Association for Philippines-China Understanding (Apcu) on Friday, Marcos said the Philippines’ “partnerships and alliances” with other countries, including China, would “keep the stability of our economic recovery” from the pandemic.
“We can only do it with our partners—and our strongest partner has always been, in that regard, our close neighbor and our good friend, the People’s Republic of China,” he said.
China was the first to donate vaccines against COVID-19 to the country.
In November last year, it completed the delivery of 52 million CoronaVac shots purchased by the government with foreign loans. It donated a total of 5 million doses of the same vaccine.
‘Developing in many ways’
In comparison, the United States, the country’s treaty ally, provided more than 29.3 million vaccine doses as of end-February this year, according to the US Embassy.
According to Marcos, he will continue President Rodrigo Duterte’s “independent” foreign policy but he sees future ties between the Philippines and China “developing in many ways.”
“This is what we feel is best in the national interest and I think it is to be advantageous not only to our friends in China but to all our friends around the world,” he said.
Marcos said the Philippines’ alliance with China was “very important” and “advantageous” to both countries.
He spoke at the Apcu affair on the same day that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) filed its latest diplomatic protest against China’s recent incursions into the West Philippine Sea.
The “difficulties and differences” between Manila and Beijing would be “helped in every way as long as we continue trying and continue to communicate and continue to be forthright in the interest of each of our countries,” Marcos said.
He did not say what those difficulties and differences were, but the two countries have a long-running conflict over the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea.
Latest DFA protest
Two weeks, earlier, Marcos said he would talk with China with a “firm voice” and asserted the country’s sovereignty over these waters, citing the 2016 international arbitral ruling invalidating Beijing’s expansive claims over the South China Sea. He said that the country under his leadership would not allow Philippine rights to be “trampled upon.”
“We have a very important ruling in our favor and we will use it to continue to assert our territorial rights. It is not a claim. It is already our territorial right,” Marcos said a day after he was proclaimed the elected president in the May 9 polls.
On Friday, the DFA said it filed a diplomatic protest against illegal fishing by the Chinese, the installation of fishing devices that blocked the entry to Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and the shadowing and “harassment” of Philippine vessels by the Chinese Coast Guard.
The DFA called on China to “comply with its obligations under international law, including the Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and the arbitral award,” saying China had “no right to fish, monitor or interfere with Philippines’ legitimate activities.”
Ayungin Shoal, a low-tide elevation located 194 kilometers off Palawan province, is within the Philippines’ EEZ. A small military contingent on the BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II landing ship tank that has been grounded at the shoal since 1999, serves as the government’s outpost there.
‘Source of instability’
Friday’s diplomatic note came a day after the Philippine government also protested the presence of more than 100 Chinese fishing and maritime vessels in and around Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef since April.
It said their presence “is not only illegal but is also a source of instability in the region.” It urged China to pull out all its vessels to avoid further escalating tensions in these waters.
A boomerang-shaped coral reef, Julian Felipe is approximately 325.5 km west of Palawan and is also within the country’s EEZ.
The DFA protested last week the return of more than 100 Chinese vessels at the reef in the West Philippine Sea.
In a statement on Saturday, the military’s Western Command, which is in charge of Palawan and parts of the West Philippine Sea, said the diplomatic protests should be “favorably acted upon” by China “to ensure continued peace and stability in the area.”
It said an early diplomatic resolution would avoid “any miscalculation of actions and ensure peaceful coexistence of all stakeholders” until the maritime claims are amicably settled.
Incoming National Security Adviser Clarita Carlos on Friday said the incoming Marcos administration would keep on filing diplomatic protests against China, “never mind that we are filing 10,000 of them.”
Carlos earlier said she would advise the country to pursue a “critical and constructive engagement” with China.
This could be done through continuous dialogue between Manila and Beijing, and “looking for commonalities and agreeing with these commonalities” by creating a holistic framework considering all aspects of the bilateral ties.