MANILA, Philippines – As Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. marks his first state visit to China on Tuesday, January 3, Global Times, the Communist Party tabloid, sought to downplay Manila and Beijing’s dispute in the South China Sea.
The long-running issue – one of the most heated aspects of bilateral relations between the Philippines and China – was expected to figure in meetings between Marcos and senior Chinese leaders, including President Xi Jinping.
In a series of articles published Tuesday, January 2, a Global Times editorial cast aside as “noise” issues relating to the South China Sea, adding that the dispute was one that “some Western media outlets have tried to play up.”
The outlet instead characterized the situation in the volatile waterway as having maintained “stability,” although Philippine defense officers and foreign reports have said otherwise.
In December alone, Philippine defense officer-in-charge Jose Faustino Jr. called out China over its continued presence around features in the West Philippine Sea – the portion of the South China Sea that belongs to the Philippines – after several vessels were found lingering near Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal.
The Philippine Department of National Defense also ordered the military to strengthen its presence in the West Philippine Sea in late 2022, following a report by Bloomberg of Chinese construction in several uninhabited features in the Spratlys. Beijing denied the report.
Prior to that, the Philippine government filed a diplomatic protest against China after its coast guard personnel seized rocket debris from the Philippine Navy in November 2022.
In a separate opinion piece, deputy director of the Institute of International Relations in the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, Li Kaisheng, instead characterized Beijing as the “biggest victim” in the dispute, saying it “had to take a series of countermeasures” after the Philippines filed a case against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague in 2013.
The landmark legal award secured by the Philippines struck down China’s claims in the South China Sea as illegal, though China refuses to abide by it.
The Department of Foreign Affairs earlier said that Marcos would raise the West Philippine Sea issue in his meeting with Chinese leaders, including Xi, but declined to divulge more details.
Before departing for China on Wednesday, Marcos said he looked forward to discussing “political-security issues of a bilateral and regional nature,” in what appeared to be a reference to the dispute.
“The issues between our two countries are problems that do not belong between two friends such as Philippines and China. We will seek to resolve those issues to mutual benefit of our two countries,” he said.
DFA Assistant Secretary Nathaniel Imperial earlier said among the 10 bilateral deals to be signed during the visit are an agreement establishing “direct communication” on the West Philippine Sea between the foreign ministries of both countries.
Marcos earlier vowed that his government will not give up “even a single square inch of Philippine territory” to any foreign power. – Rappler.com