Beijing last week vigorously insisted on its claim of ownership over the Julian Felipe Reef (or Whitsun Reef) which runs counter to the widely-accepted fact that it falls inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and called on Manila to “respect” this by putting a stop to actions that complicate the situation and escalate tensions.
The hardline position on the contentious issue comes after the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) filed literally dozens of diplomatic protests against China for its stubborn refusal in ordering order the pull-out of hundreds of its militia vessels – pretending to be fishing boats – moored within the area.
Lending his voice to the kerfuffle, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana called out the Chinese for their incessant prevarications regarding their supposed sovereignty over several islands and features in the WPS.
“It is they who are encroaching and should desist and leave,” he said. “Their claims have no basis, while the Philippines has two international documents saying the area belongs to the country.”
The persistence of the DFA with these diplomatic protests against China, which earlier drew near-global condemnation for imposing its “9-dash line” map to institutionalize its sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea (SCS), elicited a curt rejoinder from the European Union (EU) branding such actions as akin to lighting a fuse in a powder keg.
“Tensions in the South China Sea, including the presence of large Chinese vessels at Whitsun Reef, endanger peace and stability in the Southeast Asian region,” reports quoted the EU as saying.
In slamming China’s belligerent actions, the EU urged all parties to abide by the 2016 UN arbitral ruling in The Hague which asserted Manila’s maritime claims and rejected Beijing’s sweeping assertions of sovereignty in the contested area.
The United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan and Australia are officially supporting the ruling, which China has steadfastly refused to recognize.
The EU also called on all SCS claimants – namely China, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia and the Philippines – to work on a peaceful settlement to tensions within the framework of the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The 27-member EU community had earlier expressed support for the desire of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for a legally-binding code of conduct in the SCS to prevent any untoward hostilities and bloodshed.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken last month said that Washington “stands by the Philippines” in the face of China’s bullyboy tactics in Julian Felipe Reef.
Philippine ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez, however, pointed out that if Manila wants succor from other nations regarding its SCS woes, it should take the lead in confronting China more aggressively before it can expect its allies to rally behind.
Several senators are now openly criticizing Malacanang’s continued appeasement and accommodation policy towards China, which is why this has emboldened them to encroach into the country’s maritime territories.
Beijing continues to ignore the Philippines’ demands for them to depart because the national leadership still refuses to put its foot down and chooses to remain silent on the issue.
No matter how many diplomatic protests the DFA files, even if it reaches a thousand, Beijing will still be undeterred in its illegal activities in the EEZ because Malacanang appears not to be supportive, according to Senate minority leader Frank Drilon.
He said the only way to get China to back off is if there is an united approach to the problem, meaning all ASEAN nations, including the US, Japan and Australia should confront China regarding its unlawful incursions in the SCS.
If indeed Malacanang has an existing “verbal” fishing agreement with China, Drilon said the Filipino people have a right to know the exact parameters of such a deal.
The claims of Palace horntooters that such is purely within the realm of the chief executive which cannot be disclosed to the public is totally unacceptable, he said.