With China’s reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) allegedly getting closer to the country’s coastlines, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. said he is now pushing to upgrade local defense and civilian and law enforcement capabilities as well as rally the international community to condemn such encroachment.
During his participation at the forum organized by the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii last Monday, the Chief Executive expressed concern on how China’s People’s Liberation Army has been building bases on more atolls and shoals within the WPS.
“The nearest one is now around 60 nautical miles [NM] from the Philippine coastline,” Marcos said.
He noted this was on top of the “coercive tactics and dangerous maneuvers” of the Chinese coast guard and maritime militia vessels, which led to collision incidents to Philippine ships conducting regular rotation and resupply (RORE) missions in Ayungin shoal last month.
The presence of Chinese maritime militia vessels Escoda (Sabina) and Romulo (Iroquois) Reef have also caused damage in the said features, according to the President.
“The situation is not improving. The situation has become more dire than it was before,” Marcos said.
Faced with the “persistent unlawful threats and challenges” in the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the WPS, the Chief Executive said the country is now engaged in “bilateral planning” with the United States to improve the capacity of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).
He said the planning aims to “accelerate concrete and substantial capability development investments and activities” of AFP and PCG in the next five years.
While in Hawaii, Marcos visited the US Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) headquarters where he met with its commander, Admiral John Aquilino.
He noted Aquilino showed him a model of the extent of Chinese construction of military bases in the WPS.
“We had a very productive and useful exchange on regional developments and the critical role of the Philippine-US alliance to promote peace, and to safeguard the international law-based order to ensure resilient, sustainable, and inclusive growth for our economies and our communities,” Marcos said.
Aside from improving the country’s defense capability, the Chief Executive is also determined to resolve the territorial issues in the South China Sea by gaining international support.
He lauded how other countries like Australia, South Korea, and Japan have joined the US in condemning the aggression of China in the WPS.
“The more allies that we find, to speak up whenever such incursion occur, incidents or events occur, then I think the stronger that voice will be. So we have encourage that,” the President stressed.
The government, he said, is still open to resolving such territorial issues in the WPS through a code of conduct (COC) based on international law between Asean and China.
But since the COC is still pending, Marcos said the Philippines is now engaged in bilateral talks to resolve its territorial issues with other Asean countries in the WPS.
“We have taken the initiative to approach those other countries around Asean with whom we have existing territorial conflicts. Vietnam being one of them and Malaysia being another to make our own code of conduct and hopefully this will grow further and extend to the other Asean countries,” Marcos explained.
He assured the country will “not cede any territory” in its territorial disputes in the WPS.
“As I have said before, and I will say again, the Philippines will not give up a single square inch of our territory to any foreign power,” Marcos said.
Image credits: AP/Audrey McAvoy