FOREIGN Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr., on Tuesday said exchanges of words are better than missiles, referring to the ongoing word war between the Philippines and China over the continued stay of Chinese fishing vessels in Julian Felipe Reef, inside the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“We cannot be children in a grown-up world. We and China gotta take as good as we dish out to the other. Growing up is called maturation. If we were eggs we’d start to hatch but some countries are delayed in hatching,” Locsin said on Twitter, as he engaged netizens skeptical of the effect of Manila’s increasingly strong rhetoric against Beijing’s refusal to leave the reef.
Earlier, from over 200 maritime militia vessels—which China insists are fishing boats— only 40 plus were left in the reef, but satellite images shared by the Philippine military showed those that left the reef simply redeployed to other areas in Philippine territory.
On Friday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Twitter all the Chinese boats should leave the Philippines’s EEZ, and assailed the excuse that these were fishermen seeking shelter from bad weather. “I am no fool,” Lorenzana said, noting clear weather all throughout.
The Chinese Embassy issued a strongly worded reply on Saturday, taking Lorenzana to task.
On Sunday, Locsin said the DFA would issue a “demarche,” upping the ante on diplomatic protests that his agency had filed but which Beijing just seems to brush off. On Monday, DFA issued a statement warning the embassy to back off from the defense chief, and said “traditional fishing rites” as claimed by China mean nothing because “tradition yields to law,” and in this case, only two things govern: the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea upholding countries’ rights over their EEZ, and the 2016 arbitral ruling favoring Manila over Beijing.
Still, netizens seem impatient over the word war that Lorenzana and Locsin had gotten entangled with, to which Locsin replied on Tuesday: “Then you know what will trigger a resolution possibly also WW3. Sail a public vessel into the flotilla. Line may part, boats depart—or not. I heard a clear-cut commitment from the US side in ongoing VFA talks. Talk’s cheap. 8 coups, biggest mutiny, war in Mindanao.
I’m cool,” he said, apparently referring to the eight coup attempts during the late Corazon Aquino’s administration, where he used to be the spokesman.
“Just educating the pigheaded on both sides that it is a free world; you can say what you like. Missiles and hull ramming might break your bones—& trigger WW3—but words cannot hurt either side unless you let it by not answering back. It’s a free world after all, Disney sings,” Locsin added.
A Philippine Air Force plane that conducted aerial patrol of the contested waters last week was greeted by a Chinese voice over the radio saying, “This is Chinese Subi Reef. You are approaching a Chinese reef. To avoid any move that may cause misunderstanding, please leave immediately.”
The unidentified Filipino pilot replied: “This is government Philippine aircraft Charlie 2 niner 5 (RPC-295). We are conducting routine maritime patrol over Philippine EEZ. And we are proceeding based on our planned route.”
Locsin, meanwhile, said he met the editor of the Chinese mouthpiece, The Global Times, and had a clear and candid talk with them. While the newspaper “published a faithful report of what we each said,” Locsin said he was puzzled by the editor’s strange comment. “Our plane monitoring the reef is nothing compared to their new fighters. So? Go ahead, make the day,” Locsin said in reaction to this.
The Chinese has squadrons of the J-20 fighter jet, described as “the world’s third operational fifth-generation stealth fighter aircraft,” which are sometimes described as better than the US-made F-22 and a coequal of the F-35.
The Philippine Air Force has sent three of the 12 FA-50 Fighting Eagles to the West Philippine Sea to conduct air patrol. This fighter jet is a lightweight multirole fighter jet developed by Korea Aerospace Industries adapted from its T-50 Golden Eagle training jet.