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MANILA, Philippines – Gibo Teodoro, the Philippine defense secretary, blasted China on Saturday, September 23, after Beijing accused Manila’s outpost in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) of “discharging polluted water.” In a statement to media, Teodoro said China was being “hypocritical.”
“The statement of China that the grounded Sierra Madre is causing irrevocable harm is to put it as politely as possible – hypocritical. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!” he said.
“China continues to damage the WPS by its illegal reclamation activities in the SCS (South China Sea) and it was found to be a violator of international law in the 2016 Arbitral Award when such activities damaged the marine environment,” he added.
The 2016 award also quashed China’s sweeping claim over practically the entire South China Sea. But China has refused to recognize this ruling and continues to harass Filipino vessels sailing in the West Philippine Sea, or parts of the South China Sea within the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
This is not the first time Teodoro criticized China’s rhetorics on the West Philippine Sea. In late August, after Chinese Coast Guard and maritime militia ships harassed, blocked, and used water cannons on Philippine ships on a resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal, Teodoro went on a tirade, warning against China’s “fake news” and “propaganda.”
On September 23, he also slammed China’s “propaganda”: “Disingenuous propaganda lines such as this only serve to expose China’s insincerity and will only heighten the mistrust by the Filipino people and the rest of the world of the Chinese Government.”
The latest word war between Manila and Beijing comes after the Philippine military and coast guard said extensive damage was found in the marine ecosystem at Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal, features in the West Philippine Sea. Philippine authorities said this happened after vessels of the Chinese maritime militia were spotted in those areas.
The maritime militia, a fleet of vessels meant to be used for fishing, is understood by experts as an extension of China’s maritime law enforcement and military. The Philippine Coast Guard said that in recent resupply missions, it became more obvious that the Chinese maritime militia work in sync and, therefore, take orders from, the Chinese Coast Guard.
China Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning, in a September 21 briefing, denied Manila’s coral reef damage claims and said the Philippines was just “creating a political drama from fiction.” Mao was specifically asked to react to news that the Philippines was considering – among a plethora of other options – taking to China to court for the damage to the coral reef. Manila is planning a scientific expedition to the area, following reports of its destruction.
Tensions between China and the Philippines have heightened in the past months, despite a January 2023 promise of “maturing” relations during President Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s state visit to Beijing.
Marcos, while touting a foreign policy of being a “friend to all and enemy to none,” has brought Manila closer to its traditional defense ally, the United States. Under Marcos, the Philippines opened up additional bases to Americans, through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. Manila and Washington had also released new, updated guidelines to govern its defense treaty.
The Philippine President has insisted that talk of the South China Sea, should not be made solely through the lens of the great power competition between China and the US. Still, Marcos has leaned on allies – the US, as well as fellow middle powers in the region and beyond – in amping up the Philippine readiness amid tensions in the region. – Rappler.com