WARMING UP. The Philippines and China started warming up ties after President Rodrigo Duterte met China’s leader Xi Jinping in Beijing during a state visit. The ties has started to break as Manila filed three protests against China over its reclamation and military installations in islands and reefs which Philippines claims are part of its territory.
PASAY CITY ( PhilAmPress) – Is the newfound alliance between China and the Philippines about to crumble?
The poser is raised following the revelation of Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. himself that the Philippine government has filed not just one but at least three diplomatic protests against China for its weapons build-up and installations within the West Philippine Sea.
The installation of weapons cited in separate diplomatic protests were those on Scarborough Shoal and reefs reclaimed into islands by China in the Kalayaan Group of Islands (Spratlys).
“In my watch, I do recall having issued 3 or 4,” Yasay admitted to television host Pinky Webb of CNN Philippines on Monday, January 16. Yasay, however, did not elaborate the diplomatic protests and when they were filed.
Reports on the interview and Yasay’s revelation on the note verbale filed by the Philippines with China surfaced amidst another meeting of President Rodrigo Duterte and United States Ambassador to Manila Sung Kim in Davao City following their earlier meetings in Malacanang.
The meeting also came on the heels of the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who pledged $9 billion (1 trillion yen) of assistance to the Philippines, matching the earlier pledge also of $9 billion from China.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana expressed concern on China’s action placing weapons in the disputed Spratlys saying it is “very troubling” and that the Philippines will be remiss in its duty to protect its national interest if it does not question them.
Earlier, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said that it has monitored the construction of hexagonal buildings in Fiery Cross, Mischief Reef, and Subi Reef, areas where China constructed artificial islands, and these facilities seemed fitting with anti-aircraft guns and other weapons capable of shooting down aircraft or even cruise missiles.
On the same artificial islands, China also constructed airfield capable of handling and supporting large military aircraft.
“Notwithstanding the warming of relations between our countries, the Philippine Government would be remiss in its duty to protect its national interest if it does not protest, question and seek clarification from China on the presence of weapons in the Spratlys specially so that some of those reclaimed islands are within the Philippine EEZ (exclusive economic zone) according to UNCLOS, which China is a signatory and affirmed by the PCA ruling of July 12, 2016,” Lorenzana stressed.
“They (putting of weapons in Spratlys) do not square with the Chinese government’s rhetoric that its purpose is peaceful and friendly,” he added.
Duterte and Abe witnessed the signing of several agreements aimed at enhancing cooperation between the two countries, including the grant of economic and social development program and 600 million yen for high-speed boats and other counter terrorism equipment for the Philippine Coast Guard.
Duterte said as maritime nations, the Philippines and Japan have a shared interest in keeping respective waters safe and secure from any threat.
“Capacity-building and assets acquisition and upgrading will be a centerpiece of this collaboration. We hope to fast-track the delivery of the Philippines of key assets already in the pipeline and the acquisition of new ones,” Duterte said.
“As we seek these new innovations to the Philippines’ capabilities, we will continue to forge ahead with our efforts to advance the rule of law in order to secure the waters in our regions,” he added.
The Davao meeting of Duterte and Kim reportedly lasted for 40 minutes on the heels of the launching of the Philippines’ chairmanship in 2017 of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
According to Malacanang, the 40-minute conversation between Duterte and Kim was productive and they openly exchanged ideas.
Kim reiterated to the President the commitment of US to its solid relationship with the Philippines.
Duterte and Kim also discussed military cooperation and both countries’ fight against terrorism.
Kim said the US will continue to provide support to the Philippines in terms of exchanges in intelligence and maritime security.
During the ASEAN chairmanship launch, Mr. Duterte called on all ASEAN’s dialogue partners to be unwavering in their support for the ASEAN’s continued development and role in regional security, stability and growth.
At the same time, he rallied support from ASEAN member states to renew their dedication to the valued purposes and principles stated in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation – including non-interference – in promoting regional peace and stability through respect for the rule of law.
The Chief Executive stressed that this is a golden opportunity for the ASEAN to work for a regional grouping that has taken its firm and secure place in the community of nations.
While ASEAN has accomplished a lot since its inception 50 years ago, the President said there is still a lot of hard work to be done to achieve real regional transformation.
“I say to you today in full humility: the Philippines – as ASEAN Chair – will remain steadfast in upholding the ideals and values we hold dear and in working for the realization of our shared aspirations,” he said.
“We are committed to the building of a strong and resilient ASEAN Community,” he added.
At the traditional New Year Vin d’ Honneur at the Malacañang Palace, Duterte said that as the Philippines contends with its domestic challenges, his administration values its partners as it seeks strengthened existing friendships even as it pursues new ones.
Friends help each other and utilize constructive engagement to achieve common goals, he noted, adding that in truth, everyone shares the same aspiration of greater peace, progress, and prosperity.
Highlighting that friendship knows no bounds, he said the Philippines has and will continue to build on friendships founded on a common objective, shared values and time-honored principles of international law.
“Let us work together to further expand the areas of mutual beneficial collaboration. This New Year, the Philippines takes on the ASEAN Chairmanship with renewed fervor, a sense of purpose,” the President said.
“It is an opportunity to exercise leadership to advance the regional development agenda of forging a rules-based community that puts citizens’ welfare at the heart of every initiative. The Philippines counts on your full support,” he said.
Responding to the President’s toast, the dean of the diplomatic corps, Archbishop Guissepe Pinto, thanked the President for inviting them to join the traditional gathering at the Palace.