South China Sea

Marcos says PH rebuffing Beijing’s claims in South China Sea not ‘poking the bear’

Dwight de Leon

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Marcos says PH rebuffing Beijing’s claims in South China Sea not ‘poking the bear’

PRESIDENTS. China's President Xi Jinping walks with Philippines' President Ferdinand 'Bongbong' Marcos Jr. during a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, January 4, 2023.

Office of the Press Secretary/Handout via Reuters

President Marcos says the Philippines must do more to defend its territory amid the threat posed by China but adds that the government is exerting maximum effort to avoid a war

MANILA, Philippines – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. believes in doing more to assert Manila’s claim in the West Philippine Sea but insists his government’s approach is not equivalent to provoking world superpower China.

In an exclusive interview with Bloomberg on Tuesday, March 19, Marcos said the Philippines is exerting maximum effort to avoid a war with China.

“This is not poking the bear, as it were. We are trying to do quite the opposite. We are trying to keep things at a manageable level,” he said.

“The threat has grown, and since the threat has grown, we must do more to defend our territory. And so, maybe perhaps what people are seeing is a more robust defense of our territorial rights as recognized by the international community, through international law,” he added. “We have not instigated any kind of conflict, we have not instigated any kind of confrontation.”

Tensions between Manila and Beijing in the vast waterway have escalated since Marcos became president in 2022, marked by instances of China’s continued intimidation and harassment of Philippine vessels.

Marcos says PH rebuffing Beijing’s claims in South China Sea not ‘poking the bear’

China has refused to recognize a 2016 arbitral ruling won by the Philippines, which essentially invalidated Beijing’s all-encompassing claim in the vast waterway.

The Philippines’ foreign affairs department previously confirmed that Beijing had been sending Manila proposals to “normalize” the situation in the disputed waters, but Marcos said these suggestions ran contrary to Filipinos’ interests.

Marcos has time and again insisted that his government will not give up an inch of its territory while he’s president.

No ‘run to big brother’ mentality

Unlike former president Rodrigo Duterte, who antagonized the United States and cozied up to China during his term, Marcos welcomed Washington with open arms.

But while Marcos values the United States’ support, he is insistent on not being fully reliant on Washington.

“It is dangerous for one to think in terms of when something goes wrong, we’ll run to ‘big brother.’ That’s not the way we treat it at all. We do this for ourselves. We do this because we feel that we have to do it. And it’s not at the behest of the United States,” he said.

Since becoming president, Marcos has visited the US thrice. In his visit in 2023 to Washington, President Joe Biden welcomed him to the White House and gave him full military honors.

He is set to fly back to Washington next month for a trilateral summit between the Philippines, the US, and Japan. –

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Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Malacañang, and the Commission on Elections for Rappler.