WASHINGTON D.C., Aug 22, 2019, PhilStar. The White House on Tuesday accused China of “bullying tactics” in the increasingly tense waters of the South China Sea and said it would resist Beijing on the dispute, reported the Philippine Star.
“China’s recent escalation of efforts to intimidate others out of developing resources in the South China Sea is disturbing,” President Donald Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton tweeted.
“The United States stands firmly with those who oppose coercive behavior and bullying tactics which threaten regional peace and security.”
China has been accused of deploying warships, arming island outposts and ramming fishing vessels in the resource-rich sea, also contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Washington has repeatedly criticized China’s attempts to exert growing dominance in the disputed waters, but Bolton’s latest broadside comes as the two economic superpowers face off in a damaging trade war.
In Manila, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei Nograles said that while President Duterte may have been displeased by reports of Chinese incursion into Philippines waters, his administration has not given up on peaceful means to resolve any conflict with Beijing.
“I think it has something to do with Ship Identification System… when they pass through our sea lanes and turn them off. We are able to (only) monitor the commercial vessels,” Nograles said when asked about the President’s unusual reproach on China.
“It came to the attention of the President, they are switching it off when they pass through. I believe that was the context on why there was that announcement,” Nograles said.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said on Tuesday that – as ordered by the Chief Executive – foreign ships face “unfriendly” treatment if they continue to enter Philippine territorial waters without proper clearances.
The Philippine Coast Guard said it is ready to enforce the President’s order.
“We are ready to implement orders. We will follow orders and deploy our vessels. We will also collaborate and seek guidance with National Security Council (NSC),” PCG spokesman Captain Armand Balilo told The STAR yesterday.
“We have been monitoring through the National Coast Watch. Regarding issues like this, PCG cannot act without the guidance of the NSC and the DND (Department of National Defense). We are just waiting for the orders. We depend on our monitoring system and the National Coast Watch for all ships passing our territory,” Balilo said.
Speaking at a media forum, Nograles said the President has ordered a thorough monitoring of all ships – commercial and military – passing through Philippines waters.
“That will be the challenge, because the President made that pronouncement, it will be up to our security forces,” he said.
“At least we will have a system and mechanism. Documentation also is key here… serious documentation of what we believe as transgressions of our territory,” he added.
Nograles maintained the government would abide by protocols in dealing with trespassing foreign vessels. Filing of a diplomatic protest can be one of these mechanisms, he added.
“We have protocols (to follow), if it’s violation of our internal laws it can be enforced by the police or the Coast Guard. If it’s violation of the law of the seas, or the Fisheries Code, then we rely on the Coast Guard. Anything above that, it will be dealt with by the Navy, especially national security concerns,” he said.
He emphasized the administration is prepared to explore all peaceful options in dealing with disputes with friends in the region.
“We want to explore all possible options, the DFA should also push for all these possible options,” he said. DFA stands for Department of Foreign Affairs.
“So, as friendly neighbors, we can still talk, the lines of communication are still open, that is something that we are currently looking right now,” he said.
“There are many opportunities for us to defuse the tensions right now, because these can just be a matter of misunderstanding. And misunderstandings can be best threshed out if there is healthy talks between good neighbors,” he pointed out.
Senators, meanwhile, voiced support for President Duterte’s directive to require foreign vessels passing through the country’s waters to seek permission from the government.
“Way to go! The President deserves everybody’s support in regard to this guidance,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on national defense and security, said.
He said Duterte’s directive “is unequivocal and clear for all the concerned agencies of government to do what is necessary to deal with any situation relative to the issue.”
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said the Philippines, as a sovereign nation, should be treated with respect.
“I believe in the golden rule of treating others as how you want to be treated so these nations who want their borders and rules respected should do the same for us,” Zubiri told reporters.
He, however, emphasized that steps should be taken—including modernizing the military and Coast Guard—to ensure the government can monitor foreign vessels straying into the country’s waters.
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, chairman of the committee on foreign relations; and Sen. Christopher Go in separate interviews on Tuesday said the Senate may look into the reported Chinese intrusions.
Pimentel said he has set a briefing with officials of the DFA, headed by Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.
“We will have also specifics, like what date, what time, what vessel, as well as, how the DFA understands the international law involving the passage through territorial waters, international straits (of such vessels),” he said.
The Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest over the intrusion of the vessels and Locsin said the government will not hesitate to file more if warranted.
He said foreign military vessels passing through the country’s waters must give advance notice, as “no sovereign country would want to be surprised by the presence of a military vessel within its territory.” Go said an investigation is in order because “what is ours is ours.”
For Surigao del Norte Rep. Francisco Matugas II, the issue of China’s incursions should be taken up by Duterte with Chinese President Xi Jinping when they meet in Beijing from Aug. 28 to Sept.2.
“While we appreciate China’s friendship, the actuations of its ships undermine Philippine sovereignty and, in a sense, threaten the security of the country, particularly those near the affected provinces,” the Mindanao congressman said.
Paolo Romero, Robertzon Ramirez, Delon Porcalla, Roel Pareño, Jaime Laude, Reuters