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China downplays ‘worrisome’ acts, vows ‘no letup’ in sea row

Rey E. Requejo

China vowed there will be no let-up in its efforts to protect what it insisted was its “territorial sovereignty and maritime rights” in the West Philippine Sea after President Marcos told members of the Australian parliament that Beijing’s recent actions in the area were “worrisome.”

“China’s position on the South China Sea is consistent and clear,” Chinese foreign affairs ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said.

“We express grave concern over the Philippines’ recent activities in the South China Sea that infringe on China’s sovereignty and will continue to take necessary measures to firmly safeguard our territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, and keep the South China Sea peaceful and stable,” she added.

President Marcos, in a speech in Canberra, raised concern over the deployment of Chinese Navy boats in the West Philippine Sea.

“It’s worrisome because there are two elements to that: one is thatpreviously only China’s Coast Guard was moving in our area. Now, also its Navy and fishing boats,” Mr. Marcos said.

“So, the situation is changing,” he added (see banner story – Editors).

To protect Filipino fishermen, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessels started holding rotational deployment in Bajo de Masinloc this February.

Tensions between Manila and Beijing increased recently as the two countries traded accusations such as alleged intrusion, shadowing, blocking, and performing dangerous maneuvers.

China claims most of the South China Sea, parts of which are also claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

In 2016, an international arbitration tribunal in The Hague said China’s claims had no legal basis, a decision Beijing has rejected.

Meanwhile, the country’s ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez said he considered the West Philippine Sea and not Taiwan as “the real flashpoint” for an armed conflict in Asia.

Romualdez expressed deep concern that tensions over the recent monthsbetween the Philippines and China are more alarming than the possibility of the Asian power invading Taiwan.

“The real problem and the real flashpoint, which is why I’m telling you how critical it is for us, the real flashpoint is in the West Philippine Sea,” Romualdez told reporters.

He said the heightened tensions between China and Taiwan was a key concern, but a Chinese takeover was a calculated risk.

Romualdez said he believes that Chinese President Xi Jinping “is not going to make a move unless he is absolutely sure that he canmilitarily take over Taiwan.”

“Deterrence is the only way to stop them from going into that kind of situation,” Romualdez said.

Romualdez said the unpredictable situation in the West Philippine Seais keeping him awake at night as it does President Marcos and other Philippine officials.

“All of these skirmishes that are happening there, there can be one major accident and either one of our countries the US or the Philippines can invoke the MDT and when we do, a commitment made by the US or the commitment we made will happen and then all hell breaks loose,” he said.

“Diplomacy is still the best option to pursue rather than engage in any conflict. That’s what we are working hard on. We want to avoid having to find a situation where we will have to call each other saying we want to invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty, you have to defend us because the Chinese are already on our shores. We hope it will never happen.”

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