BIPARTISAN members of the influential US House Foreign Affairs Committee are supporting President Joe Biden to increase joint patrols with the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) to deter China’s “provocative behavior.”
South Korea and the Japan also issued separate statements supporting the Philippines on the latest maritime incident that caused two brief collisions between Chinese and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and civilian boats last Sunday.
‘Gibo’ sees wider support from allies
Defense Secretary Gilberto “Gibo” C. Teodoro, in a radio broadcast interview, meanwhile, said the Philippines would likely get more security partners and allies following the collisions where Chinese vessels hit and damaged two Filipino ships engaged in a routine resupply mission in the WPS.
“I am not at liberty to disclose the operational details but…I believe it will invite more countries who have an interest in freedom of navigation to participate not only in joint sails but in other security engagements with the Philippines,” Teodoro said.
He added that these engagements could include capability upgrades for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), intelligence exchanges, and other defense military-to-military and defense-to-defense cooperation agreements.
In the same interview, Teodoro said that he is not in favor of calls to return the control of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to the AFP, saying the former is a civilian agency whose function is to enforce maritime safety and law enforcement, especially in internal and coastal waters.
US solons’ condemnation
A few days before the collisions on October 16 to 18, Japanese and US navies conducted bilateral exercises in South China Sea.
US Foreign Affairs Committee statement
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (Republican-Texas), ranking member Gregory W. Meeks (Democrat-New York), and Subcommittee on the Indo-Pacific chairwoman Young Kim (Republican-California) and ranking member Ami Bera (Democrat-California) condemned Beijing’s latest maritime intimidation.
“We unequivocally support the Philippines and condemn the unlawful actions by the Chinese Coast Guard in the South China Sea. The Chinese Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels intentionally hit Philippine Coast Guard ships over the weekend and continue to violate international law, endanger Filipino crew members, and obstruct Philippine vessels’ access in their own exclusive economic zone,” the US lawmakers said in a statement.
The US House Indo-Pacific subcommittee held a public hearing last month on China’s use of laser beam and water cannon against Philippine vessels in the SCS.
“This incident is part of a larger pattern of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, the Maritime Militia, and the Chinese Coast Guard’s aggressive and provocative behavior in the South China Sea, where it actively intrudes in other states exclusive economic zones,” they said.
The US congressional members “welcome the Biden administration’s announcement to increase joint patrols with the Philippines and other partners in the South China Sea and its reaffirmation to uphold its commitment under the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.”
Four days before the collisions, Japan’s Murasame-class destroyer JS Akebono, US Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Dewey and littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords held bilateral exercises in the SCS.
Akebono and Dewey also saw action in Exercise Sama-Sama 2023. The bilateral naval exercise between the Philippines and US has turned multilateral with Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Malaysia and United Kingdom joining the war drill.
The South Korean Embassy in Manila likewise expressed its support for the Philippines on the latest incident.
“On the recent reports of collisions between the Chinese and Philippine vessels in the South China Sea, the ROK Embassy in the Philippines is concerned about unilateral actions that raise tensions in the South China Sea and threaten the safety of crew members. We reaffirm our support for peace, stability and rules-based order in the South China Sea, as an important international sea lane of communications, and for the freedom of navigation and overflight based on the principles of international law, including UNCLOS,” the Embassy said in a statement.
It could be noted that in the past, Seoul was ambivalent on their position in the SCS, except to say they are concerned about the freedom of navigation and blanket appeal for all claimants to exercise self-restraint.
But after the Camp David trilateral summit with US and Japan, the Korean position became clearer, calling out China’s “dangerous and aggressive behavior.”
The Japanese Embassy in Manila also elaborated their Ambassador’s position, expressing “serious concern for actions, which increase regional tensions including a dangerous action collision between Chinese and Filipino ships on October 22nd.”
“Japan believes that the issue concerning the South China Sea is directly related to the peace and stability of the region and is a legitimate concern of the international community, including Japan, and thus Japan opposes any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force as well as any actions that increase tensions in the South China Sea,” the Embassy said in a statement.
It echoed the Philippines’ “long-standing” protest against China’s “unlawful maritime claims, militarization, coercive activities and threat or use of force in the South China Sea.”
“Japan highly appreciates the Government of the Philippines for having consistently complied with the Arbitral Tribunal’s award,” it added.
The Embassy said Japan has “consistently advocated upholding the rule of law at sea and re-emphasizes the importance of efforts toward a peaceful resolution of disputes based on international law.”
Earlier, National Security Council (NSC) Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya said China’s continuing efforts to impede and harass Filipino supply boats and their escorts on going about their lawful mandate in the WPS is increasing tensions in the area.
“The provocative actions are on the part of China. It is not the Philippines that is increasing tension, it is China that is increasing tension in the WPS especially by interfering and blocking our legitimate resupply mission,” he stressed.
Malaya also described the collision that damaged the PCG vessel, PCG Cabra (MRRV-4409) and supply boat, Unaiza May 2 as “alarming.”
Image credits: AP/Aaron Favila