‘Armed hostility’ at sea feared

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The Palace said Wednesday that Vietnam and Malaysia’s stance against China over a territorial dispute in the South China Sea endangers the lives of their people.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the two countries risk “armed hostility” through their aggressive posture against Asia’s economic giant.

Vietnamese and Chinese forces have an ongoing standoff within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone.

Vietnam has accused China of “unlawful activities” for deploying a ship to conduct a mapping mission within their EEZ and continental shelf.

China has challenged Vietnam’s ongoing oil and gas operations.

The two countries, which are both claimants of islands in the disputed waters, are contesting the oil-rich Vanguard Bank.

“It means that Vietnam is risking an armed hostility between the two countries and risking the lives of their people,” Panelo said.

A similar situation was monitored months ago in Malaysia.
To prevent ongoing drilling operations, a Chinese vessel patrolled waters near Luconia Shoals off the coast, which is within Malaysia’s Sarawak State.

Panelo said diplomatic negotiations remain the “best method” to address territorial disputes.

“They [Vietnam and Malaysia] can do that, but there is always risk… [of] something disastrous. The President will not allow that. Rather than risk, the best method to solve the problem is through negotiation, diplomatic negotiations,” he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte has been criticized for his handling of the issue even after the Philippines won its arbitral case against China in 2016 before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands.

Shortly afterward, Duterte entered into verbal deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping, granting access to the country’s EEZ to Chinese fishermen.

Duterte says he puts a premium on the safety of the Filipinos by avoiding war with China, but critics say the government can assert sovereignty without necessarily going to war.

On Tuesday, the US Coast Guard called on the international community, including the claimant-nations in the disputed South China Sea, to openly rebuff the “aggressive behaviors” of China’s naval forces and its maritime militia that may threaten the region’s stability, peace and security.

US Admiral Karl L. Schultz, commandant of the US Coast Guard, said that China had shown aggressive behavior in the SCS.

Schultz suggested that the international community, the US and countries in Southeast Asia, and China’s neighboring countries, including the claimant-nations, should voice out their objections to the aggressive behavior of the Chinese coast guards and maritime militia in the disputed waters.
“I think we are seeing behaviors out of the Chinese Coast Guard, out of the Maritime Militia, that are not consistent with the rule-based order,” the US officials said, in an international teleconference.

“I think there needs to be an international push-back to say… we reject the types of behaviors, the antagonistic, aggressive behaviors that are not consistent with the rule-based order,” Schultz said.

Schultz said the United States will continue to assert freedom of navigation rights and open sea lines of communication in the Indo-Pacific Region, including in the South China Sea, noting that it is “critically important to US interests and to international interests.”

Meanwhile, a pro-administration legislator on Wednesday said the government must seriously pursue the development of Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea as a tourist destination, as suggested by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

“With the ongoing rehabilitation of the runway on the island, [we] would do well to maximize the investment we are putting into the island to consider other productive activities on Pag-asa other than just an outpost,” said Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon.

“If we are to assert our hold on the island in a non-military, non-confrontational way, it would be advantageous to open it up to visits by tourists, with sustainable, eco-friendly policies in place,” he added.

Biazon said the economic activity would enable the government to somehow recover the expenditures for the rehabilitation of the runway and erection of facilities on the island and provide funding for future developments.

Also on Wednesday, Senate President Vicente Sotto III rejected a call by Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio for the Senate to either ratify or repudiate Duterte’s verbal agreement with Xi.

“We do not practice motu propio ratification or repudiation on something not submitted to us,” said Sotto.

Meanwhile, Senator Leila de Lima warned Duterte to stop “clowing around with the country’s security and diplomatic relations” by invoking the country’s Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States as a way to dramatize his opposition to a more aggressive stance against China.

“Duterte’s reckless taunting of the United States by ridiculously invoking the PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty [MDT] cannot be merely dismissed as a joke,” De Lima said.

She accused Duterte of “toying around” with the country’s national security and international alliances.

On July 6, Duterte dared the US to invoke its defense pact with the Philippines to stop China’s build-up in the South China Sea. With Maricel V. Cruz

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