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DFA: WPS worries go beyond US-China tensions

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Notwithstanding the escalating competition between China and the United States, the Philippines’ concerns over encroachments in the West Philippine Sea are primarily national in nature.

This clarification was given by Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo as he described the justification for Manila’s operations in the resource-rich waters against the backdrop of the two big powers’ geopolitical rivalry in the area.

He stated in a speech delivered on March 6 that “our problems are primarily from a national aspect and should not be regarded through the prism of the US-China competition.” A copy of the speech was provided to the media on Friday.

Throughout President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s administration, dozens of diplomatic protests against China were lodged due to the intimidation of Filipino law enforcement authorities and illegal vessel presence in the West Philippine Sea.

Manalo emphasized that there is a “decidedly human element to these tragedies” that cannot be disregarded.

According to the top diplomat, who cited scientists, reclamations in the area will also have “long-term economic repercussions” for the coastal population that are comparable to eradicating seven natural world heritage sites.

Manalo stated that while the maritime dispute is “not the sum total” of its ties with China, Manila will compartmentalize its strategy in dealing with Beijing and continue to enforce its legal obligations under international law, including the arbitral award from 2016.

The nation will engage with the US at the same time since Marcos’ autonomous foreign policy is built on fortifying bilateral connections with all allies.

“Exchanging barbs”

China had previously charged the US of “stirring up trouble” and “sowing strife between regional countries” by backing the Philippines in its South China Sea arbitral victory.

Additionally, it chastised the latter for “strengthening military presence in the Asia-Pacific” and for having a “zero-sum mentality.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry also rejected a deal last month that would have allowed US troops access to four more sites in the Philippines as part of the Expanded Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

It cautioned nations to “stay watchful and avoid being manipulated by the US” and said that this would “increase tensions and imperil peace and stability in the area.”

Manila, according to Manalo, is dedicated to the full implementation of EDCA since it continues to be a “essential pillar” of the US-Philippines alliance.

“[EDCA] is a crucial tenet of the US-Philippines relationship, which promotes joint training, drills, and force interoperability. Our alliance will become more resilient as a result of the full implementation of the EDCA, and our joint military forces will be modernized faster, he added.

In accordance with the EDCA, the two countries designate “approved areas” in the Philippines that will house facilities and buildings to which both US and Filipino forces will have access for training, drills, and humanitarian aid and disaster response (HADR) activities, among other things.

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