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President Marcos says he is still open to WPS talks with China

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Charles Dantes & Vince Lopez

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Wednesday reiterated that his administration is open to back-channel talks with the Chinese government regardless of Beijing’s continuing incursions in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

He said that “We should try everything,” to open and use any point of contact or communication lines that will bridge the discussion towards progress and stop any form of aggression in the area.

The President added that our nation is allied with countries who also reject China’s claims in the WPS, and that we are not a lone voice is an important aspect to consider.

Marcos recognized that the invitation he received to deliver the keynote speech at the annual Shangri-la Dialogue—an international conference on defense and security—marked a significant aspect of the controversy: the position the Philippines is in as regards the decision of policymakers everywhere.

On the issue of the fishing ban, the President made it clear that Beijing’s policy to arrest and detain Filipino fishermen plying the WPS is “worrisome”.

In a media interview, the President said the policy would put local fisherfolk at risk, more so when things escalate in the ongoing tension in the maritime region.

The policy, as stated by China, will begin in June this year.

Under China’s new policy, the Chinese Coast Guard can detain “foreign trespassers” in the South China Sea for up to 60 days. Beijing’s directive came after the successful civilian mission of ‘Atin Ito’ in the WPS.

In a separate statement, Marcos said China’s fishing ban is not a new issue, referencing previous agreements that had addressed it.

The President said China’s action is “just an extension again of their claim that this is all the maritime territory of China.”

“There are sometimes fishing bans because it’s the season. And this is something that we have actually agreed upon before,” Marcos said.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Navy on Wednesday, May 29, said that the imposition of the Chinese fishing ban was meant to deceive the public by creating a false narrative that might gather support among Filipinos.

At a press briefing held at the Philippine Army Officers Clubhouse in Taguig, Philippine Navy spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea, Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad, said that China’s directive was only for “narrative, deception, and lawfare” purposes.

Commodore Trinidad also noted that China’s lawfare or the usage of legal means to cause problems for its opponent “is one of the instruments in their cookbook” to accomplish their main purpose of solely controlling the entirety of the WPS.

“So far, none,” the Commodore said in answer to the question if there have been indications that China would impose the fishing ban. “Today’s warfare is more on narratives, more on deception. It is part of the lawfare of China.”

“The pronouncement on the ban has been there since 2021. They have announced a four-month fishing ban. But the implementation has not yet been put into effect,” he added.

Furthermore, Commodore Trinidad said China is out of its minds, and out of step, and is now stepping out of line by imposing such a moratorium.

Beijing asserts sovereignty in almost the entire South China Sea, illegally using their imaginary 10-dash line, including most of the West Philippine Sea.

China’s claim has been effectively invalidated by a July 2016 international tribunal ruling from a case filed by Manila in 2013.

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