West Philippine Sea

Marcos on West Philippine Sea: We have not rejected any proposal China made to us

Dwight de Leon

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Marcos on West Philippine Sea: We have not rejected any proposal China made to us

STAKING CLAIMS. A Philippine flag flutters from BRP Sierra Madre, a dilapidated Philippine Navy ship that has been aground since 1999 and became a Philippine military detachment on the disputed Ayungin Shoal, on March 29, 2014.

Erik de Castro/Reuters

Marcos' statement comes on the heels of a Chinese diplomat's allegation that the Philippine government is ignoring Beijing's proposals to 'normalize' the situation in the South China Sea

MANILA, Philippines – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. asserted that his administration has not turned down any suggestion raised by China in managing the escalating tensions in the West Philippine Sea.

“We have not rejected any proposal that China made to us, but the premise is something we question,” he said during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday, March 12, during his working visit to Berlin.

The response came on the heels of a Chinese diplomat’s allegation that the Philippine government was ignoring Beijing’s proposals to “normalize” the situation in the South China Sea.

The Chinese official – speaking anonymously to news outlet Manila Times – claimed that Beijing sent 11 concept papers to the Philippines, but these were supposedly “met with inaction by the Marcos administration.”

But the Philippine president said China is working under the proposition that Manila adheres to its sweeping claims to the South China Sea.

“The premise that China has made is that their territory is… follows what is now described as a democratic state. It is a 10-dash line. This is not recognized by any country, any international body, certainly not by the Philippines,” Marcos explained.

“Our baselines have been well established for years now. We have the economic zone that China has already intruded upon. And until that premise that China has made in terms of all its discussions with the Philippines, then it’s very difficult to see a way forward,” he added.

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What China wanted

According to the Manila Times article, Beijing wanted the Marcos administration’s commitment that it won’t transport building materials to BRP Sierra Madre, the dilapidated Philippine Navy ship that serves as the country’s military outpost on the Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal).

In exchange, Beijing would allow one Philippine vessel to hold resupply missions to the World War II-era ship.

This “gentleman’s agreement” – as China puts it – that Beijing proposed, obviously did not sit well with the Philippine government, which deemed the suggestion a violation of the Philippine Constitution and international law.

A 2016 arbitral ruling already invalidated China’s nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea, and declared Ayungin Shoal a part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

“While a few proposals were deemed somewhat workable, many of the remaining Chinese proposals were determined, after careful study, scrutiny and deliberation within the Philippine government, to be contrary to our national interests,” the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

The agency added that the Philippines submitted counterproposals, although China did not consider them.

Marcos in Germany
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz welcomes Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to the Federal Chancellery in Berlin on March 12, 2024. Photo from Presidential Communications Office

During Marcos’ meeting with Chancellor Scholz, the two agreed to continue promoting rules-based international order.

According to a Malacañang press release, Marcos thanked Germany “for its continued support to the capacity-building of the Philippine Coast Guard,” the agency at the forefront of efforts to assert Manila’s rights in the West Philippine Sea.

“Our shared commitment to international law strengthens our partnership and creates a favorable atmosphere for working together on global issues,” President Marcos said. 

In time for Marcos’ visit, the two nations signed a Joint Declaration of Intent on Strengthening Cooperation in the Maritime Sector.

“It has to be recognized that the South China Sea handles 60% of the trade of the entire world, so it’s not solely the interest of the Philippines or of ASEAN or of the Indo-Pacific region, but the entire world,” Marcos said. “It is in all our interest to keep it as a safe passage for all international commerce that goes on in the South China Sea.” – Rappler.com

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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.