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China to non-regional forces: Keep off South China Sea
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano (right) and visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pose after a signing ceremony for a memorandum of understanding at the Shangri-La Hotel at the Fort in Taguig City yesterday. EDD GUMBAN
MANILA, Philippines - “Non-regional forces” should avoid interfering in activities in the South China Sea, Beijing’s foreign minister warned yesterday as he also called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to help China ward off “outsiders” in the region.
“Outsiders are only out to stir trouble and ASEAN and China should unite to stop this,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a speech at the Shangri-La at the Fort in Taguig.
Wang also signed with Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano a memorandum of understanding on strengthening bilateral cooperation.
The two officials said the bilateral consultation mechanism has helped clear the air in the South China Sea issue.
In his speech, Wang said China is eager to be a “good neighbor and good brother” to the Philippines as he cited Beijing’s support for President Duterte’s war on drugs.
Wang cited the delivery of more drug screening and inspection equipment from China. Beijing will also fund the construction of two more drug rehabilitation centers, as well as help in the resettlement and rehabilitation efforts in war-torn Marawi.
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In his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, Duterte revealed having agreed to joint exploration with China in disputed waters.
In a press briefing after his SONA, Duterte also said he would not dare insist on the country’s territorial claims and antagonize China because the latter has missiles trained on Manila that could reach its target in minutes.
He said joint exploration is better than waging war with the Asian giant.
But he said the West Philippine Sea issue would be tackled “sooner or later.”
Asked to elaborate on joint exploration activities with China, Duterte said “when they start to excavate the gas and all. I tell you, it’s going to be just like a joint venture. Para pareho (So it will be fair),” the President told reporters.
He said talks are ongoing, but he did not provide details.
“Wala pa sila pero (They are not yet here but) we are into it already. We are there already, may partner na (There’s a partner already),” he said.
“Di ko lang masabi kung sino. Nandoon na ang atin, pati kanila (I can’t tell who they are but they are there. Our representatives and their representatives are there). They are talking and they are exploring,” he added.
China claims virtually the entire South China Sea but this is being disputed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
Earlier yesterday, Cayetano presented Malampaya as an example of joint development the Philippines could pursue with foreign entities.
China called the initiative ”full of political wisdom” – especially if pursued in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea.
“Malampaya is an example of how the Philippine Constitution allowed exploration and development of our natural resources despite the cooperation with some foreign corporations or foreign entities,” Cayetano said in a press conference following a meeting with Wang.
Wang was in Manila for a two-day visit at the invitation of his counterpart.
Cayetano noted that talks on joint development with China began in 1986 between the late president Corazon Aquino and the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.
“But in the 31 years of discussion we have not found the wisdom to be able to push through to the next step and we’re praying that this generation under President Xi and under President Duterte we’ll have the wisdom to find a way that these natural resources will benefit our people,” he added.
Wang pushed for joint development in the West Philippine Sea as he warned that unilateral development “might lead to tensions.”
“Well, in waters where there is overlapping of maritime rights and interests, if one party goes for unilateral development, then the other party will take the same actions, and that might complicate the situation at sea,” Wang said.
“That might lead to tensions. And as the end result, nobody might be able to develop the resources,” he added.
He said that joint development does not affect legal systems and may involve only consultation.
“I hope that the two sides could make the decision so that the goodwill embodied by Mr. Deng Xiaoping’s proposal 31 years ago could benefit the people of both countries,” Wang said.
Last year, an arbitral court based in The Hague ruled that China’s expansive maritime claim has no legal basis. Beijing, however, refused to recognize the ruling, dismissing it as “illegal since day one.”
The ruling stemmed from a complaint filed by the Aquino administration in 2013.
President Duterte has said he is ready to set aside the tribunal’s decision to repair the Philippines’ relationship with China. But he also promised to bring up the matter with the Chinese government within his term.
Last May, Duterte said he was open to a “fair and balanced” joint exploration of the South China Sea, a resource-rich area that is the subject of a longstanding dispute in the region.
Duterte noted that former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had forged an agreement with China and Vietnam for a joint study of potential oil and gas reserves in the area.
Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has said that conducting joint development within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is prohibited by the Constitution. The EEZ is an area 200 nautical miles from a baseline of a coastal state. The coastal state has sovereign rights to explore, exploit, conserve and manage the natural resources within its EEZ.
Duterte challenged Carpio to join him in confronting China but that the latter should be prepared in case they end up being beaten up.
“This is Carpio. Okay, I will back him up. Pero ‘pag binugbog tayong dalawa diyan… Bantay ka pag-uwi (But if they beat us up, watch out when we return home),” the President said.
Duterte reiterated that the Philippines would not be able to match China’s military prowess in the event of a conflict over areas in the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea.
“I’m not prepared to go to war. I have to be frank. The truth is, I will not. It will end up a slaughter to my forces. They have the state-of-the-art and everything,” he said.
Duterte on Monday night claimed that China has aimed its missiles at the Philippines in case the latter asserts its ownership of disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea.
“They have missiles pointed at us. It will reach Metro Manila in seven minutes. Now why? Whose fault it is? Look, it was there three years ago. The overflights of intelligence from all countries published it.”
He recalled that when he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping a few months ago, “I told him directly that those territories are ours and we will dig for oil there whether you like it or not.”
“And he told me that will mean war,” Duterte said. He chided Carpio for “ranting” about his stance toward Beijing and for allegedly failing to assert the ruling of the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration recognizing Philippine sovereignty over many of the disputed territories, including some occupied by China. – Edith Regalado, Jess Diaz