President Marcos to meet with China�s Xi
This handout photograph released by Philippine’s Office of the Press Secretary and taken on January 4, 2023, shows Philippine’s President Ferdinand Marcos Jr (2L) shaking hands with China’s President Xi Jinping (2R) during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of People in Beijing. Philippines’s Office of the Press Secretary / AFP

Leaders aim to bring down sea tension

SAN FRANCISCO — President Marcos said he wants to “bring down the temperature” in the West Philippine Sea, as he meets here today with Chinese President Xi Jinping amid rising cases of Chinese aggression in Philippine waters that risk escalating into full-scale hostilities.

In a video statement, Marcos cited the need to discuss ways to prevent the escalation of tensions in the West Philippine Sea.He said the matter would be tackled during his meeting with Xi on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit here. The meeting was supposed to take place yesterday (Philippine time), but it did not push through.

“We will put together the ways forward because we are continuously trying to maintain the peace. And now that’s what I see the mission of the Philippines, the Philippine Coast Guard, the Philippine military, our fishermen, all of us. It is our basic fundamental mission here… to maintain the peace,” the President said.

“We will get the view of the Chinese President on what we can do to bring down the temperature, to not escalate the situation in the West Philippine Sea. And we will put all of these together so as we’ll be able to strategize for the near future on what the Philippines’ role will be or what is the proper Philippines’ role in the West Philippine Sea,” he added.

Chinese coast guard and militia vessels, for a long time now, have been harassing Philippine Coast Guard ships, Filipino fishing boats and other civilian vessels even within Philippine territorial waters.

The Chinese had even used water cannons in some cases to try to stop Philippine vessels from unloading their cargo of supplies and provisions for troops stationed on BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal. Manila filed diplomatic protests in response, but Beijing ignored them, saying it’s the Philippine vessels that were trespassing into Chinese territory. Beijing’s claim over almost the entire South China Sea has already been invalidated in a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague. Beijing has vowed not to honor the ruling, which reaffirms the Philippines’ maritime entitlements.

The South China Sea dispute was also the center of discussions between Marcos and US Vice President Kamala Harris last Thursday.

“We had a meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris before the beginning of the APEC conference… She was very interested to know what our assessment was on the situation in the West Philippines Sea, and I just went through the narrative of what was – what had happened in the past few months,” Marcos said. “And we tried to discuss some of the ways forward.”

According to the White House, Harris reiterated Washington’s commitment to its treaty obligations to Manila and maintained that it stands “shoulder-to-shoulder” in defending its ally’s sovereign rights in the South China Sea. She noted that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea, would trigger US mutual defense commitments.

China has accused the US of meddling in the maritime row and insisted that “outsiders” keep off the issue.

For Speaker Martin Romualdez, the success of the meeting between Marcos and Harris was “a testament to the enduring strength of the alliance between the United States and the Philippines.”

The meeting, he added, has also reaffirmed the Philippines and the US “shared commitment to upholding international rules and norms, particularly in the South China Sea.”

The President’s meeting with Harris took place last Wednesday (US time) before the start of the APEC summit.

Romualdez also noted that an “equally significant outcome” of the meeting was a reaffirmation of the necessity of “expanding commercial and economic cooperation.”

“Pres. Marcos and Vice President Harris recognize the potential for mutual growth and prosperity through collaboration, fostering economic opportunities that will benefit both nations and their people,” he maintained.

Peaceful resolution

Meanwhile in Jakarta, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro has called on the international community, particularly Southeast Asian countries, to work together to peacefully resolve the South China Sea row.

Teodoro made the appeal at the 17th ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting and 10th ADMM-Plus held in Jakarta, Indonesia from Nov. 15 to 16.

“During the exchange of views, Secretary Teodoro reaffirmed the Philippines’ commitment to continue pursuing principled engagement with all countries to foster a rules-based order,” DND spokesman Arsenio Andolong said yesterday.

“To this end, he further manifested the Philippines’ continued commitment to the peaceful resolution of the South China Sea disputes in accordance with international law, principally the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and called upon all countries to embrace the responsibility of collective accountability for actions that violate international law,” he added.

Andolong said Teodoro also emphasized “that it is our responsibility to build up our respective defense resiliencies in order for us to be in the position to contribute towards guaranteeing regional security.”

ADDM member countries include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam while other countries included in the ADMM Plus are Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the United States.

The “Jakarta Joint Declaration of the ADMM for Peace, Prosperity and Security” underscores the primacy of international law and the importance of confidence-building measures in the maintenance of a peaceful, prosperous and stable region, Andolong said.

The 10th ADMM-Plus also adopted the “Joint Statement by the ADMM-Plus on Women, Peace and Security” which recognizes the invaluable contribution of women across all realms of peace and security, and emphasizes the need to advance the full, equal and meaningful participation of women in the defense sector and peacemaking. — Michael Punongbayan, Sheila Crisostomo