Philippines confronts Chinese diplomats over maritime disputes

Manila, Philippines — Philippine diplomats are expected to launch a series of protests over China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea, including a Philippine navy ship carrying a powerful military laser, when they meet Chinese officials on Friday, an official said.

Territorial disputes along the busy waterways have long emerged as a potential flashpoint in Asia and have become a sensitive front in the regional rivalry between China and the United States.

Washington does not lay claim to the disputed waters, but has challenged Beijing’s sweeping claims, including by deploying its warships and fighter jets, and has repeatedly warned it will help defend the Philippines — its treaty ally — if Philippine forces, ships and aircraft are attacked. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims to the sea, which sits atop vast oil and gas deposits.

A Chinese delegation led by Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong will hold two-day talks with Philippine counterparts led by Vice Foreign Minister Theresa Lazaro starting Thursday to review general relations. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Manila said the two sides would focus on their territorial disputes on Friday.

The talks began with both sides citing an agreement between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who made a state visit to China in early January, to deal with territorial conflicts peacefully while strengthening economic ties and other aspects. nearly half. -century diplomatic relations.

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“We must not allow certain differences to define our bilateral relations or certain disputes to stand in the way of comprehensive cooperation,” Sun said in his opening remarks before reporters were asked to leave the meeting hall. “We need to properly address these issues through friendly consultations.”

A Philippine official involved in the talks told The Associated Press that Filipino diplomats are presenting several incidents that support China’s assertiveness in the disputed waters. These include a Feb. 6 incident in which a Chinese coast guard ship aimed a military-grade laser that briefly blinded some crew members of a Philippine patrol boat at a disputed reef.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss what happened during the two-day talks.

Shortly after the laser show incident, Marcos summoned China’s ambassador to Manila to express his concern. The Philippine coast guard captured video of the incident and released it to the public, but Beijing disputed that the Philippine ship had entered Chinese territorial waters and that the coast guard used a harmless laser device to monitor the ship’s movements.

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The Foreign Affairs Department in Manila separately condemned the action of the Chinese Coast Guard and sent a strong protest to the Chinese Embassy. The Philippines has filed more than 200 such diplomatic protests against China since last year, including at least 77 since Marcos took office in June, underscoring how longstanding conflicts have become a major irritant in relations with China.

In early February, the Marcos administration announced it would allow rotating contingents of U.S. forces with their defense equipment to be stationed indefinitely at four more military camps in the Philippines. These are in addition to the five local bases previously designated under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the long-standing treaty allies.

Marcos told reporters on Wednesday that the four new military sites will include the northern part of the Philippines. That location has angered Chinese officials because it would give US forces a location near southern China and Taiwan.

Chinese diplomats expressed strong opposition to an expanded U.S. military presence in the Philippines in closed-door talks Thursday and warned of its future consequences, a Philippine official told the AP without elaborating.

Philippine diplomats responded to China’s objections by saying the decision to allow an expanded US military presence was in their national interest and would increase the Philippines’ ability to respond to natural disasters, the official said, suggesting the move was not aimed at China.

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Marcos said US forces could be stationed in military areas in the Philippines’ western island province of Palawan, adding that the purpose of the US military presence was to boost coastal defense.

Palawan overlooks the South China Sea, a key gateway for global trade that is virtually entirely claimed by Beijing.

Despite China’s opposition to a continued U.S. military presence in the Philippines, two senior Philippine officials told the AP that the Philippine government would extend the EDCA, which allows U.S. forces to temporary presence. The constitution of the Philippines prohibits the permanent stationing of foreign troops in the country and their participation in local battles.

The EDCA, signed in 2014, would initially be for 10 years and would remain in effect automatically unless terminated by either party with one year’s prior written notice.

The two officials, including a senior security official, spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.


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