Ex-DFA chief: PH-China territorial row a ‘small matter,’ see ‘bigger picture’



Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 8) — A former Foreign Affairs secretary belittled the territorial row between the Philippines and China, saying people should see the “bigger picture” in the relations between the two countries.

“What is important, as we should always understand, is keeping stability and peace in the region, realizing fully well that this present area of conflict is a small matter compared to the bigger picture that we must pursue,” former Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. told CNN Philippines’ The Source on Monday.

Yasay doubts that the territorial dispute between Manila and Beijing will be resolved even by the next generation and said the two countries should be pursuing other “urgent priorities.”

“Like relating into other relationships of commercial transactions, people to people contacts, making people understand each other, cultural exchanges and so on. These are priorities and these can also help resolve the conflict in the future,” he said.

The former Foreign Affairs chief said this following reports that some 300 Chinese vessels were spotted near the Philippine-occupied and claimed Pag-asa Island, which the Department of Foreign Affairs hit as “illegal.” Manila has already protested this.

President Rodrigo Duterte told China in a speech last Thursday to “lay off” Pag-asa Island, warning that he will tell soldiers to “prepare for suicide mission” if the East Asian giant touches the land mass.

But Duterte later clarified that he would opt for a compromise on the presence of Chinese vessels in the area, as Manila will “never win” against the military might of Beijing.

Yasay said Manila “can only do so much” about China’s incursions into Philippine territory as it cannot fire off the first shot at Beijing, even if it is “not scared” to do so.

“It is not because we’re scared. It’s because it’s the right thing to do. We are bound by the rules under international law. We cannot use force,” he said.

He added that opening fire at the vessels spotted near Pag-asa Island, a land mass claimed and occupied by Manila for decades, may lead to war, with China invading and seizing the island.

The UN charter bans its members from using force against other member-states unless the UN Security Council authorizes collective action to maintain or enforce international peace and security or unless in self-defense in the event of an armed attack against a country.

“They (China) violate the rules about provocative acts, about the use of force and intimidation to get what they want, then let them fall under international law,” Yasay said.

He added, “There is nothing that we can do about it unless China starts shooting our fishermen. If they did that, that’s something else.”

It was reported in 2017 that a Chinese speedboat fired seven times at a Philippine fishing vessel. This was followed by reports of harassment of Filipino fishermen by Chinese coast guard personnel in the following years.

However, despite diplomatic protests appearing to be the only recourse to Beijing’s moves in the West Philippine Sea, an area of the South China Sea claimed by Manila, Yasay admitted that during his stint, the East Asian giant did not respond to the four notes verbale he filed.

He also said that he spoke with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua over incursions of Beijing, but they only reiterated their position and told him that they will look into his protests.

Current Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro “Teddy Boy” Locsin Jr., previously told CNN Philippines that Manila is only sending diplomatic protests “at a brick wall” as it is “powerless” and Beijing is “indifferent.”

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Yasay said that the Philippines must protest China’s actions or else it would be deemed to have acquiesced to whatever China was doing in its waters.