Philippines challenges China, vows to keep Western powers in South China Sea

The Philippines has vowed to keep Western powers in the South China Sea, challenging China’s demand to keep them out of the strategic waterway. 

Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr told lawmakers at the House of Representatives that this was the Philippines’ position as members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations(ASEAN) were in talks for a South China Sea Code of Conduct (COC). 

“I have assured the West that when we do the code of conduct, we will never, never adopt what China wants, which is the exclusion of Western power from the South China Sea,” Locsin said. “I can swear to you, Western power will be in the South China Sea.”

The foreign secretary said: “China’s demand to exclude Western powers from the South China Sea – that I will never allow…. The Western powers must be present in the South China Sea as a balancer.”

Locsin made the statement when asked by lawmakers why the Philippines only filed protests against China while other Southeast Asian states claimed ownership of maritime features in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. 

Locsin said that while Vietnam, Malaysia, and Taiwan also claimed some features, it was only China that the Philippines was in active conflict with. This was because Beijing continued its aggressive behavior to assert its expansive claims, which has no legal nor historical basis, according to the 2016 ruling of the tribunal in the Hague.

The foreign affairs chief told lawmakers this was one reason why ASEAN members were negotiating a sea code to ensure peace and stability in the highly volatile waterway. 

 “All of us are interested in knowing how we can deal with each there in the South China Sea, and so we’re coming up with a code. In that code, I don’t believe we are giving up any sovereignty. It’s only how we will conduct ourselves in this situation where you have different rights, the economic zone, arbitral award, and territorial seas – that’s really what it is all about,” Locsin said. 

“We believe in the balance, that the freedom of the Filipino people depends on the balance of power in the South China Sea to the exclusion of no other great power in the world,” he added. 

Challenges

Locsin’s remarks came days after China called on ASEAN states to resist outside “interference” when drafting a COC. China made the statement days after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Southeast Asian countries not to let the Chinese Communist Party “walk over us and our people.”

“Apart part from the difficulties caused by the pandemic, certain country outside the region is bent on interfering in the disputes of the South China Sea and the COC consultations to serve its own geopolitical agenda. How to resist the interference is crucial for pushing forward the future consultations of COC,” China said. 

In the same hearing, Locsin also told lawmakers he would continue to speak out in public about certain diplomatic matters to continue asserting the Philippines’ rights.

The Department of Foreign Affairs chief had been asked if it would be “disadvantageous” to the Philippines to remain vocal over disputes. 

“Well, I’ll tell you, if we conduct diplomacy in these issues very quietly, very quietly we will wake up one day having lost all our rights. It is better that the public who own these rights, the Filipino people, know exactly every move we’re making and where we will never compromise because some things can never be settled diplomatically. And what are those things? They are the things that are ours,” Locsin said. 

What’s the status of the Code of Conduct?

ASEAN and China earlier said they wanted to finalize the South China Sea code of conduct by 2022 – a target date that analysts said was now “off the rails” due to postponed negotiations and growing concerns over Beijing’s recent aggressive actions taken against Southeast Asian claimant states. 

Locsin earlier said the text of the code had been finalized for discussions but not yet for approval. 

Aside from keeping Western powers in the region, Locsin earlier insisted the 2016 landmark Hague ruling the Philippines won against China must also be incorporated in the sea code. – 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.

image