Three days after President Marcos said the situation in the South China Sea “has become more dire” as China continues its bullying inside the Philippine exclusive economic zone, the US and the Philippines started conducting joint air and maritime patrols in the South China Sea.
Marcos announced the start of the joint patrols on X, formerly known as Twitter, describing them as “testament to our commitment to bolster the interoperability of our military forces.” The President wrote: “Through collaborative efforts, we aim to enhance regional security and foster a seamless partnership with the United States in safeguarding our shared interests.”
Answering questions after he delivered a speech at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu on Sunday, Marcos said China has showed interest in atolls and shoals that are “closer and closer” to the coast of the Philippines, with the nearest atoll about 60 nautical miles (111 kilometers) away. “Unfortunately, I cannot report that the situation is improving. The situation has become more dire than it was before,” the President said, as he reiterated his pledge that “the Philippines will not give a single square inch of our territory to any foreign power.”
The US earlier said China has militarized several islands it built in the South China Sea, arming them with anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems, laser and jamming equipment, and fighter jets. Marcos said Admiral John Aquilino, the US military commander in the Indo-Pacific region, showed him a model of China’s military bases in the disputer waters.
The President also announced that the Philippines is seeking to negotiate a code of conduct with Vietnam and Malaysia. “We have taken the initiative to approach those other countries around Asean with whom we have existing territorial conflicts, Vietnam being one of them, Malaysia being another and to make our own code of conduct,” he said, adding that he found the Asean-China negotiations as “slow.”
Beijing, however, has nixed the idea of the Philippines having a separate code of conduct only among Southeast Asian claimants of the South China Sea. Mao Ning, spokesperson of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said there was already an agreement called Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and China to craft a set of rules of engagement in the disputed sea. (Read the BusinessMirror report, “China: Code of conduct only for SCS claimants won’t do,” November 22, 2023).
The Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, signed by China and Asean members in Phnom Penh in 2002, reaffirms freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful settlement of disputes, and self-restraint in the conduct of activities. China, however, does not honor what it signed as it continues to chase, harass, block and even attack Philippine vessels going to the Ayungin Shoal, which is inside the country’s exclusive economic zone.
Marcos met Friday with Chinese President Xi Jingping on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. He told reporters afterward that they agreed the challenges in the South China Sea “should not be the defining element” of their relationship.
China’s diplomacy is often duplicitous. Just look at the tensions it is causing in the South China Sea. Days after a Chinese coast guard vessel blocked and collided with two Philippine ships near Ayungin Shoal, US President Joe Biden has warned China that the US will defend the Philippines in case of any attack in the disputed waters.
The “ironclad” defense commitment to the Philippines of our treaty ally is reassuring. But it would do well for the Marcos administration to continue strengthening defense ties with other nations sharing the country’s ideals and values, such as Australia, Japan and South Korea. We need allies that can help us preserve and defend the country’s sovereignty and integrity in the West Philippine Sea.