Philippines-China relations

Teodoro slams China Coast Guard regulation as ‘provocation’

Bea Cupin

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Teodoro slams China Coast Guard regulation as ‘provocation’

Defense Secretary Gibo Teodoro attends the 126th anniversary celebration of the Philippine Navy on May 24 at the Navy headquarters.

Department of Defense

The Philippines’ defense chief says the new regulation ‘is a matter of international concern as a threat to enforce something illegal’

MANILA, Philippines – Speaking before officers of the Philippine Navy, Defense Secretary Gibo Teodoro on Friday, May 24, criticized China’s newest coast guard regulation as a “provocation,” amid rising tensions between Manila and Beijing. 

Teodoro slams China Coast Guard regulation as ‘provocation’

“I believe what a provocation is, is the roguish and irresponsible threat to detain quote-unquote ‘trespassers’ in what is claimed as internal waters, but is actually part of the high seas and part of the West Philippine seas, by a country,” Teodoro said at the 126th anniversary of the Philippine Navy. 

“Such behavior is not only a violation of UNCLOS, but also a violation of the precepts of the United Nations Charter, which lays upon each responsible member state the duty to refrain from the threat or the use of force or aggression, to enforce, particularly in this case, illegal territorial claims in the maritime domain. That is a provocation insofar as I am concerned,” he added. 

Teodoro slams China Coast Guard regulation as ‘provocation’

In a chance interview with reporters after the event, Teodoro confirmed that he was alluding to a newly-released regulation setting the conditions in which China’s Coast Guard could apprehend “trespassers” in Chinese waters. 

The regulation, which will reportedly take effect by June 2024, is a “matter of international concern” since it is a “breach of international peace,” said Teodoro. 

“What we do in our exclusive economic zone, how we defend our exclusive economic zone, can in no way be termed by any sane person as a provocation,” added Teodoro, who has helmed the defense department since June 2023.

Teodoro slams China Coast Guard regulation as ‘provocation’

Tensions between the Philippines and China have amped up significantly, as Manila asserts its sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea, or part of the South China Sea that includes the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. 

China claims a huge chunk of the South China Sea, despite a 2016 arbitral ruling that deemed their claim invalid. Philippine missions to key features in the West Philippine Sea – such as Ayungin Shoal and Scarborough Shoal – are often fraught, with China using its strong water cannons on several occasions. 

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Beijing has accused Manila of reneging on supposed agreements on features in the West Philippine Sea. Philippine officials, including Teodoro, deny the validity and existence of the so-called agreements.  

China has defended its new coast guard regulations, with its foreign ministry saying they merely “standardize the administrative law-enforcement procedures of Coast Guard agencies and better uphold order at sea. It is consistent with universal practices.” 

Under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Philippines’ foreign policy and strategy has taken a 180-degree turn. From a “pivot” to China under the previous Duterte administration, the Philippines has again grown closer to its treaty-ally the United States while also establishing security cooperation agreements with other countries, both traditional and emerging. 

Manila is set to host in 2024 2+2 meetings with Japan and the United States, respectively. “2+2” refers to bilateral meetings with the defense and foreign affairs ministers or secretaries of either country. 

No date has been set for these meetings.

The Philippines’ efforts to improve its defense and security ties with other countries both in and out of the Indo-Pacific happens as it shifts its focus from international to external defense.

“We work hand in hand with each other, and I’m glad the major service commanders are here because the evolution of the Philippine Navy is not geared solely towards naval power, but as a component of joint defense and military power to create a credible and strong deterrent force in order to protect our sovereign rights, our sovereignty, and our territorial integrity,” Teodoro said in his speech. – 

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.