(UPDATE) NEW YORK: Presiden.t Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. on Friday said the country has no territorial conflict with China, saying that it is Beijing that is “claiming territory that belongs to the Philippines.”
Marcos made the statement as he acknowledged that the country's relations with the United States are vital to resolving the issue in the West Philippine Sea.
“I think it's no surprise to anyone that the Philippines has some of these conflicts with the People's Republic of China. And the position that the Philippines takes is that we have no territorial conflict with China. What we have is China claiming territory that belongs to the Philippines,” Marcos said during an interview with former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd.
The President said this is the position “we take and with our American partners, we have promoted that position.”
“We have also made it very clear to our friends in Beijing that this is the way we feel about it,” Marcos said.
“As a consequence of this challenge that we have, this diplomatic, this territorial challenge that we have, I would like to point out that this is the first national election in the Philippines where foreign policy was an issue with the people,” he added.
Marcos said there are still challenges in the Asia-Pacific Region, and the Philippines' ties with the US could contribute to keeping tensions at bay.
“They were just bubbling under the surface, and they now have come to the surface. We have to face those challenges, and we have to deal with them,” Marcos said.
“The partnership between the United States and the Philippines is going to be certainly a very important part of being able to manage those problems we have been facing,” he added.
The Philippines and China have been in a long-standing maritime dispute as Beijing claims almost the entirety of the South China Sea, which overlaps with the West Philippine Sea.
The Philippines scored a victory against China in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands in 2016. The arbitration court declared Beijing's claim over nearly the entire South China Sea as illegal.
But China refused to recognize the 2016 arbitral ruling.
Despite this, Marcos said that the Philippines will continue to work with parties involved to resolve the matter peacefully.
He said that the “differences” between Manila and Beijing concerning maritime territorial claims should not be “the defining element of our relationship.”
“We will continue to work with China and other claimant states with an end in view of resolving the issues involving the West Philippine Sea through diplomacy and dialogue,” he said.
Speaking to reporters who covered his visit to the US, the President said he would prefer any approach that will work in resolving the maritime dispute in the South China Sea.
“I will prefer any approach that will work. We should try everything,” Marcos said during a media interview.
Meanwhile, Marcos reiterated his stand that he will not surrender an inch of Philippine territory as he depends on the US' peacekeeping role in the region.
“I will not preside over any process that will abandon even a square inch of the territory of the Republic of the Philippines to any foreign power,” the President said.
“We know that we can count on the United States to uphold the international law-based order, freedom of navigation and overflight, and the sustainability and development of maritime resource1s. But equally important, we look to the United States to promote peace, security, and prosperity,” he added.
The Philippines, China, Brunei, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam all have overlapping claims in the South China Sea.
Dialogue and diplomacy must prevail
President Marcos Jr. added that dialogue and diplomacy “must prevail” as he expressed concern over the conflict in the Taiwan Strait.
In his speech during his meeting with Asia Society, Marcos urged the concerned parties to continue their dialogues and observe maximum restraint.
He said that while the Philippine government adheres to the “One China” principle that Beijing follows, it also hopes for a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan crisis.
“We are certainly concerned about the rising tensions in the Taiwan Strait, just north of the Philippines. We urge all parties involved to exercise maximum restraint. Dialogue and diplomacy must prevail,” Marcos said.
“We adhere to the One China Policy and have consistently called for the peaceful resolution of the issues involving Taiwan,” he added, referring to Beijing's “One China” policy that there is only one Chinese government and Taiwan is part of China.
Tensions over Taiwan have spiked over a visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which has further strained relations between Washington and Beijing.
The Philippines is a key US ally and is located strategically in case of any US need to defend Taiwan militarily from a mainland Chinese attack.
Amid the recent developments, Marcos said the Philippines is committed to upholding peace and pushing for partnerships with its neighbors, especially the partners of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
“We will continue to work toward strengthening Asean, particularly its dialogue partnerships with neighbors that uphold regional peace and security,” Marcos said.
“We think that these dialogue mechanisms and security arrangements should complement — not supplant — the Asean-centered regional security architecture that has been built over decades by the Asean and its member partners, as well as the existing network of bilateral security partnerships in the region,” he added.
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