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China slams Trump adviser for sowing ‘chaos’ during trip to Philippines

China accused US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien of fueling tensions in the region Monday, November 23, as the American official capped his recent trips to Vietnam and the Philippines.

Chinese officials slammed O’Brien, in particular, for making “unreasonable remarks” on the South China Sea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan – hot button issues for Beijing as it competes with Washington for dominance in the Indo-Pacific region.

It was in the Philippines, America’s former colony and also its oldest ally in Asia, that O’Brien made his most controversial remarks against China during this Southeast Asia visit.

In a statement late Monday evening, the Chinese embassy in Manila said: “We firmly oppose these remarks which are full of Cold War mentality and wantonly incite confrontation. It shows that his visit to this region is not to promote regional peace and stability, but to create chaos in the region in order to seek the selfish interests of the US.”

O’Brien, who is US President Donald Trump’s top security adviser, on Monday reaffirmed Washington’s pledge to defend the Philippines in case of an armed attack in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), and said resources in the maritime area belong to Filipinos. 

O’Brien issued his remarks during a visit to the Philippines on Monday, where he met with Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, and national security officials. 

‘No right to interfere’

O’Brien’s statements, China said, “grossly interfered” in its internal affairs, “deliberately exaggerated regional tensions, and attempted to sow discord between China and the Philippines.” 

China insisted the US had no right to interfere in the South China Sea as it refused to join the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

It likewise hit America’s freedom of navigation operations as the “biggest driver of militarization” in the waterway, though experts have defined this as one of the most robust ways to enforce the Philippine’s 2016 arbitral award that struck down China’s sweeping 9-dash line claiming virtually the entire sea.

PHILIPPINE TRIP. US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien meets with Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr during the American official’s trip to the Philippines on November 23, 2020. Photo courtesy of US embassy

In Manila, O’Brien had also hit other flash points with Beijing as he denounced China’s “attempts to coerce Taiwan” and “extinguish the flame of democracy in Hong Kong.” He asserted America needed to stand up to the “unfair and difficult conduct on behalf of the Chinese.”

“There is only one China in the world. Both Taiwan and Hong Kong are inalienable parts of China,” the China embassy said. “We hope that some politicians in the US should focus more on solving their own domestic issues and stop making irresponsible remarks on the Taiwan and Hong Kong issue, which are purely China's internal affairs.”

O’Brien’s official visit to the Philippines and Vietnam come as the Trump administration is in its last days in the White House and prepares for a transition to the administration of President-elect Joe Biden. 

While Trump has so far refused to concede the election to Biden, O’Brien said his visit to the region reaffirmed the US’ commitment to its Asian allies, “whatever happens” on January 20, which marks the start of a new administration. 

O’Brien said: “Our message is we’re going to be here, we’ve got your back, and we’re not leaving. We’re not going to be pushed out of the Indo-Pacific region. We’re going to fight for a free and open Indo-Pacific region with all of our friends and partners.” – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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