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MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine defense minister rebuked China on Wednesday, December 20, for accusing his country of provoking tension and stirring trouble in the South China Sea, saying only Beijing believed what it was saying.
“Truth and in fact, no country in the world, none, supports unequivocally their claim to the whole of South China Sea,” Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said as both nations have exchanged accusations over recent collisions in the waterway.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of commercial shipping annually, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 said China’s claims had no legal basis, a ruling the United States supports but Beijing rejects.
There was no immediate comment from the Chinese Embassy in Manila.
More than a week ago, Manila and Beijing traded accusations over a collision of their vessels in the South China Sea, with the latter saying the incidents were “entirely caused” by the Philippines.
Following the incidents, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr said on Saturday a “paradigm shift” was needed in how his country deals with the South China issue because diplomatic efforts with China were headed “in a poor direction”.
China “will keep the door of dialogue and contact open,” the spokesperson for its embassy in Manila said in a statement later on Wednesday.
Tensions between the Philippines and China have grown under Marcos, who has increasingly complained about China’s “aggressive” behaviour, while he sought closer ties with the United States, Manila’s treaty ally.
Marcos has said the Philippines will continue to talk to its partners in the Indo-Pacific region and come up with a joint position on their responsibilities in the West Philippines Sea.
The Philippines refers to the part of South China Sea within its exclusive economic zone as the West Philippines Sea.
“China has always advocated and remains committed to properly managing maritime differences through dialogue and consultation,” the embassy’s spokesperson said.