March 13, 2023
MANILA — The Chinese Embassy in Manila on Sunday warned the Philippines against opening up additional sites under its Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) with the US government, saying this will drag the country into “the Taiwan question” and further undermine stability in the region.
In a statement, the embassy questioned Washington’s continued interest and strengthening of its military alliance with Manila through their 2014 agreement, saying that “to bundle the Philippines into the chariots of geopolitical strife will seriously harm Philippine national interests and endanger regional peace and stability.”
The statement was issued in response to US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson’s interview with GMA Network on Friday, in which she said that new Edca sites would enhance local authorities’ ability to defend themselves and grow their economy.
Apart from maritime tensions over the South China Sea which Beijing claims as its exclusive waterway, the island of Taiwan, which has developed into a separate government over the decades, also faces the threat of being retaken by China after breaking away from the mainland in 1949 following its takeover by Mao Zedong’s communist forces.
‘Encircle and contain China’
According to the embassy, the United States “keeps upgrading” its military cooperation with the Philippines “to secure its hegemony and selfish geopolitical interests and out of the [its] Cold War mentality.”
“Whereas the US claims that such cooperation is intended to help the disaster relief efforts of the Philippines and some Americans even tout the Edca sites as driver of local economy, it is plain and simple that those moves are part of the US efforts to encircle and contain China through its military alliance with this country,” the embassy also said.
It also cited concerns raised by the governors of Cagayan and Isabela about having their provinces used as Edca sites, as well as by other groups about the proposed expansion of the defense agreement.
“Those visionary people all asked the soul-searching questions: If the new sites are located in Cagayan and Isabela, which are close to Taiwan, does the US really intend to help the Philippines in disaster relief with these Edca sites? And is it really in the national interest of the Philippines to get dragged by the US to interfere in the Taiwan question?”
Carlson, in the interview, disclosed a groundbreaking ceremony on March 20 for a $24-million airstrip extension and rehabilitation project at Basa Air Base in Pampanga province.
She said the US Secretary of the Air Force will attend the event, adding that the project is one of many in the pipeline worth a total $80 million.
Basa Air Base is one of five previously identified sites where future facilities and structures would be built under Edca.
The four other “agreed locations” are the Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Nueva Ecija; Lumbia Airfield in Cagayan De Oro; Antonio Bautista Airbase in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, and Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.
She said the five areas were part of an “interconnected sort of fabric” of keeping people of both countries safe.
Carlson also said she did not believe the Edca sites would become a “magnet” for Chinese “aggressive behavior.”
‘Stirring up trouble’
On the South China Sea issue, the Chinese Embassy maintained that “there is no problem of freedom of navigation” there.
“When talking about free and open waterways, what the US has in its mind is actually the freedom of rampage of its warships in the South China Sea,” the statement read, adding that the US military had been “stirring up trouble” in the region.
It added that Washington has been “ganging up with its allies from other parts of the world to flex muscle in the South China Sea.”
“By doing these, the US has not only heightened tension, driven a wedge between China and the Philippines, but also has disturbed and upset the joint effort of countries in this region to safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea,” the embassy said.
It stressed that China and the Philippines, among other countries in the region, “should keep to the right track of maintaining good-neighborliness and attaining mutual benefit rather than getting distracted by forces who are fanning the flame and driving a wedge between us, even less inviting a bully into our community.”
“We need to focus on cooperation and development, and truly safeguard, promote and build peace, stability, prosperity of our region and bring more tangible benefits to people of our two countries,” it added.
In an earlier statement, the Chinese Embassy called out Washington for “discrediting” Beijing’s economic relations with Manila.
The embassy was responding to an Inquirer story citing State Undersecretary Victoria Nuland as questioning whether Beijing’s “promises” had actually generated jobs for Filipinos.
“[S]uch remarks are in total ignorance of the Philippine people’s pursuit of peace, cooperation and development as well as China-Philippines helping each other in developing the economy, improving people’s livelihood, and increasing employment,” the embassy said.
It added: “Creating economic opportunities and jobs through military cooperation is tantamount to quenching thirst with poison and gouging flesh to heal wounds.”
The embassy stressed that China and the Philippines are “natural partners for their geographical proximity, close kinship, and complementary advantages.”
“In recent years, under the strategic guidance of the two heads of state, China and the Philippines have deepened the synergy between the Belt and Road Initiative and the ‘Build, Build, Build’ and ‘Build Better More’ programs of the Philippines,” it said.
It also cited the various government-to-government cooperation projects and signed agreements between Beijing and Manila on agriculture and fisheries, finance, customs, e-commerce, tourism, and other areas.
“Since (President Marcos’) state visit many Chinese business delegations are coming to the Philippines, reaching extensive agreements on expanding trade and investment cooperation between the two countries, demonstrating the huge potential and broad prospects of China-Philippines practical cooperation,” the embassy said.