SETTING aside politics and the “concept of ownership” are key to resolving the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea (SCS), former national security adviser Clarita Carlos said Friday.
In a forum hosted by the Association for the Philippines and China Understanding (ACUP) in Pasig City, Carlos said “there is only one ocean” and that the two countries must find a real common ground to finally end the tension at the disputed waterway.
“Are we working on the same assumption? If not, then we are wasting our time,” she said, as she also suggested that Manila and Beijing give the High Seas Treaty a closer look.
The treaty was designed to help reverse biodiversity losses and ensure sustainable development in international waters which make up two-thirds of the world’s oceans.
“Move away from the concept of ownership and find the commonalities,” the social scientist said.
She recommended coming up with a regional fishing agreement while the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea is still being crafted.
Reports of Filipino fishermen being harassed and driven away in parts of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) triggered President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to put Chinese President Xi Jinping on notice during his state visit to China earlier this year.
Their meeting resulted in the establishment of a direct communication line between the two governments to immediately address issues involving territorial disputes.
Beijing, however, continued its aggressive action against Filipino fisherfolk and even Philippine government vessels and personnel in the South China Sea.
The latest major incident was the “laser pointing” of the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) on the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) in February.
Carlos lamented that the numerous letters of protest sent by the Philippines to China amounted to nothing, meriting a change of direction as far as the relationship between both countries is concerned.
Turning her attention to the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and United States, Carlos urged the government to be “intelligent about it” and not get entangled in the “propaganda war” between the US and China.
“There should be no number one or number two. We should not be a multi-polar world,” she said.
“I don’t think China wants to go to war. I don’t think the US wants to go to war. We don’t want to go to war. If they want to wage war, they should do it in their own territories,” she added.
At the same forum, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian said peace across the Taiwan Strait is under threat and blamed the US for it.
Huang said the US has attempted to contain China by exploiting the Taiwan question and breaking its commitments to maintaining only unofficial relations with the island nation.
He said Washington “has been crossing the line and acting provocatively on issues such as US-Taiwan official exchanges, arms sales to and military dealings with Taiwan and creating chances for Taiwan to expand its so-called ‘international space’ and kept fudging and hollowing out the one-China principle.”
Huang stressed that the one-China principle is the basis on which China has established and developed diplomatic relations with 182 countries, including the Philippines.
He said China commends the Philippines for adhering to the principle.
“The Taiwan question is entirely China’s internal affair, as is the Mindanao issue to the Philippines. You will never allow any third party to meddle with resolving rebel issues in Mindanao. Likewise, it should not be hard to understand why the announcement of the four additional EDCA sites has caused widespread and grave concern among Chinese people,” the envoy said.
He said that “obviously, the US intends to take advantage of the new EDCA sites to interfere in the situation across the Taiwan Strait to serve its geopolitical goals, and advance its anti-China agenda at the expense of peace and development of the Philippines and the region at large.”
“Why are the new EDCA sites only a stone’s throw away from Taiwan? How will the Philippines effectively control the prepositioned weapons in the military bases? Why will the Philippines fight for another country through the new EDCA sites? These are soul-searching questions of the Philippine people and also doubt by people in China and across the region,” he said.
He warned that Beijing “will not renounce the use of force, and we reserve the option of taking all necessary measures. This is to guard against external interference and all separatist activities.”
He advised the Philippine government to oppose “Taiwan independence” rather than stoking the fire by offering the US access to the military bases near the Taiwan Strait if it is concerned about the fate of the 150,000 Filipino migrant workers in Taiwan.
In a related development, the Philippine Fleet strengthened its ties with other navies by hosting seven members of the Foreign Armed Forces Attachés (FAFA) Corps.
Fleet Public Affairs Office Director Lt. Giovanni Badidles of the Philippine Navy said the attaches made a courtesy call on Philippine Fleet Commander Rear Adm. Renato David at the fleet’s headquarters in the Heracleo Alano Naval Base Thursday.
The attachés were Col. Paul Barta of Australia, Col. Bambang Wijonarko of Indonesia, Cdr. Sekine Takeharu and Col. Kazuaki Akiba of Japan, Col. Ahmad Jafri Bin Ahmad Zuliyadai of Malaysia, Ltc. Kim Jai Suk of South Korea, Capt. Noel M Corpus of the United States, and Senior Col. Nguyen Van Son of Vietnam.
Defense attachés are military experts attached to a country’s diplomatic mission.
David recognized their contributions in sustaining diplomatic relations among countries by “preserving, advancing, and promoting your respective nations’ defense interests here in the Philippines.”
Engagements like this contribute to the deepening of ties and sustainment of cooperation with foreign partners that is vital to the fulfillment of the Fleet’s mandate as the “Vanguard of Our Seas,” he said.
During a video teleconference on Thursday, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Andres Centino and Japan Self-Defense Forces chief General Yoshihide Yoshida shared their optimism that the military relations between the Philippines and Japan will lead to a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
Yoshida thanked Centino for his invitation to attend the closing ceremony of the 38th Balikatan exercises.
“Between our defense forces, it is only proper for us to ensure strong relations. So I am glad that we are in the same direction, that our defense forces support the objective to have a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Centino said in reply.
Centino also expressed gratitude to the Japanese government for supporting the modernization of the AFP, citing projects such as acquiring helicopter spare parts, surveillance planes, and radar systems.
In San Fernando City, La Union, participants in the Balikatan exercises performed the loading and offloading of cargoes during the Combined Joint Logistics Over the Shore (CJLOTS).
More than 400 US and 200 Filipino troops took part in the CJLOTS exercise.
The exercise aims to demonstrate the US and Philippines’ ability to transfer mission essential cargoes from sea to the shore in when fixed port facilities are unavailable, damaged or denied due to enemy activities or calamities.