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BATAAN, Philippines – There’s no need to worry if no one is attacking.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Monday, April 10, downplayed China’s qualms over additional sites under the Philippines and the US’ Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), telling reporters that there’s no need to “worry” as long as no offensive attack takes place.
“Kaya kung wala naman sumusugod sa atin, hindi nila kailangan mag-alala dahil hindi naman sila natin lalabanan. Ang ginagawa lamang natin ay pinapapatuloy natin ang depensa ng ating teritoryo, ng ating republika,” said Marcos in a chance interview on the sidelines of a Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor) event at the Mount Samat National Shrine.
(If nobody attacks us, then they do not need to worry because we will not fight them. We’re only continuing to defend our territory, our republic.)
In two separate press conference on April 4 and April 6, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning blasted the US for its “zero-sum mentality in pursuit of selfish interests,” referring to the opening of new EDCA sites. “This would only lead to more tensions and less peace and stability in the region,” she said on April 4.
Two days later, reacting to the Philippines’ Department of National Defense officer-in-charge Carlito Galvez Jr.’s justification of the additional EDCA sites, Mao pointed out the “long list of turmoil, division and devastation left behind by the US military around the world.”
The president said China’s reaction was not “surprising” but added “hindi tayo papayag na gamitin ang mga base natin para sa kahit anong offensive na action. Ito ay para lamang tulungan ang Pilipinas,” he said.
(We will not allow our bases to be used for offensive actions. These will be used only to help the Philippines.)
The Chinese Embassy in Manila, in remarks released in March 2023, questioned if it was in the Philippines’ national interest “to get dragged by the US to interfere in the Taiwan question.”
Yet Marcos himself, during an official visit to Japan in early February 2023, said “it’s very hard to imagine a scenario where the Philippines will not somehow get involved” in tensions in the Taiwan Strait.
Malacañang, in early April, announced the location of four new sites under EDCA. Most of the bases were vetted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). By clearing and approving the four bases as EDCA sites, American soldiers will be able to access them and preposition US assets in those bases. The four bases – in the northern provinces Cagayan and Isabela, and in Palawan province in southern Luzon – offer greater US access to the West Philippine Sea, Sulu Sea, and Taiwan.
The selection of the four bases was seen as a “big deliverable” of the Philippines to the US, its oldest treaty ally. Marcos has previously framed the new EDCA sites as having been selected with disaster response as the main consideration.
Taiwan is becoming a flashpoint in the region, owing to China’s moves in trying to assert control of Taipei. Taiwan, a democratically-governed country, is being claimed by China as its own territory. The US has promised to defend Taiwan in the event of an attack from China.
There is, too, the dispute in the South China Sea, which China has practically claimed all of as its own. China has repeatedly downplayed tensions in the resource-rich waterway, with Mao claiming on April 6 that “there is never any issue with freedom of navigation and safety in the South China Sea.” Yet Filipinos who go to sea – from fishermen to the Philippines Coast Guard – will be quick to point out the repeated threats of Chinese vessels.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo has called Chinese harassment in the South China Sea a “daily situation.”
The US has said it would also come to the Philippines’ defense should it be attacked in the South China Sea. Recently, Marcos summoned China’s ambassador after China used a military-grade laser against the Philippine Coast Guard. – Rappler.com