Lorenzana blasts China’s ‘bullying’


Chinese warships were continuing to pass through the Sibutu Strait in Mindanao off the coast of Tawi-Tawi with inactive Automatic Identification Systems (AIS), Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana revealed Tuesday, despite raising his objections to the move through Philippine territory with Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua.

Earlier in the day, Lorenzana called Chinese actions in the West Philippine Sea, in particular the way China’s militia took over Scarborough Shoal, as “bullying.”

He doubted Zhao’s pronouncement on Monday night that China, being a peace-loving nation, will not start a war or confrontation in the South China Sea, which has been considered a potential “flashpoint” for armed conflict.

In his speech during the 92nd founding anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army, Zhao said China “will not take the first shot” because it is committed to follow the path of peaceful development—“a commitment to the people of China and to the world.”

But Lorenzana said: “Perhaps that’s just for optics. It’s good to be heard just to keep us calm, maybe or as a consolation for us. But the bottom line is their words do not match their actions in the WPS [West Philippine Sea].”
“The way they took over Scarborough Shoal, to me, that is bullying,” he added.

“In any part of the world, if you shut off your AIS, you do not want yourself to be known,” the Defense chief added in a GMA News report, noting he had made it clear to Zhao that Chinese ships should not deactivate their AIS when passing through Philippine waters.

“They don’t want us to know who they are, but we can see them. So what was the use of putting off your AIS? We can’t see them on our radar, but they can be seen by our naked eye because the Strait is very narrow,” he added.

Lorenzana previously said Chinese ships had passed through the Sibutu Strait four times since February this year, and stressed that if warships intended to pass through Philippine waters, they needed to inform local authorities.

This developed as senators on debated over whether to scrutinize a supposed verbal agreement between President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping allowing the Chinese to fish in the West Philippine Sea.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said if the details of the talk between Duterte and Xi are not divulged, the Senate cannot scrutinize it.

“We cannot take up something that is not ours or within our jurisdiction. So if no one brings it up, no agreement is presented, there is nothing for us to take cognizance of,” Sotto said.

In a privileged speech, Senator Francis Tolentino said the Senate does not need to formally concur with the verbal agreement for it to be binding. Opposition Senator Franklin Drilon challenged Tolentino’s conclusion, pointing out that senators do not even know the parameters of the agreement between Duterte and Xi.

The Senate also cannot summon Malacañang officials in a hearing based on an “oral agreement that has never been brought to us,” Sotto added.

In Bangkok, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are likely to miss their mutually-agreed upon target of three years to hammer out a Code of Conduct to regulate actions in the South China Sea amid formidable differences on how to settle disputes.

“They are trying to finish in three years but it will probably take longer,” said Pornpimol Kanchanalak, policy advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, the current chairman of Asean.

Kanchanalak said the final output might not even be a legally-binding document, raising concerns that the COC will just be as ineffective as the present Declaration of Conduct.

“I can’t say if it will be a legally-binding document. I don’t know yet. We are still three years away and there is no unanimous decision on it yet,” she said.

China, which proposed the three-year timetable starting this year, has refused to join a binding COC.

Kanchanalak, however, played down fears that Asean is moving too slow on the COC while China continues with its militarization of disputed territories in the South China Sea.

“The flashpoints are always there but Asean has risen above these. There are perceptions of threats—some real, some unreal—but everybody knows we have to co-exist with others,” she said.

“There is nothing wrong with going one step forward and two steps backward–at least we are moving forward,” Kanchanalak added.

Despite China’s assurance there will be no violence amid the sea row, the Palace said on Tuesday Duterte will “think beyond those words.”

The Philippines “does not take words of other countries on their face value,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a press briefing.

“The President will always think beyond those words,” he said.

China has overlapping claims in the resource-rich area with Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The Philippines won in 2016 an arbitration case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration against China’s nine-dash-line claim over almost the entire South China Sea.

President Rodrigo Duterte, however, maintained the position that Manila and Beijing can settle the issue more effectively through diplomatic negotiations and has set aside the 2016 decision.

He has also repeated many times that he will not risk a war with China over their territorial dispute.

Chinese Ambassador to Philippines Zhao Jianhua on Tuesday assured that China, being a peace-loving nation, will not start a war or confrontation in the South China Sea, which has been considered a potential “flashpoint” for armed conflict.

In his speech during the 92nd founding anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army, Zhao said China “will not take the first shot” because it is committed to follow the path of peaceful development—“a commitment to the people of China and to the world.”
Zhao said China develops its military entirely for the purpose of self-defense.
“China adopts a military strategy of active defense, which adheres to the principle of defense, self-defense and post-strike response. Meaning, we will not take the first shop,” the Chinese ambassador said.

“The Chinese nation is a peace-loving nation. China will follow the path of peaceful development. This is a commitment to the people of China and to the world, and this has been written into the Constitution of China. It is also our firm conviction to continue the path of peaceful development,” Zhao added.

In April, Chinese fishermen drove Filipino fishermen away from the shoal as wooden ships that bore China’s flag harvested giant clams.

In June, a Chinese vessel hit a Filipino fishing boat leaving 22 crewmen adrift in the open sea for hours until they were rescued by Vietnamese fishermen.

The incident triggered anger at the administration’s timid response.

At a press briefing during the Disaster Resilience Summit, Lorenzana took China to task for sailing at least three Chinese warships through the Sibutu Strait, saying such actions require advance notice.

“What they say is that they do not bully people and that they follow international law, but I say… that what they are telling us and what they are doing on the ground do not match,” he said.

Lorenzana dismissed Zhao’s speech as “nothing new.”

“I have heard that version of that speech many times already. I heard that from the mouth of Xi Jinping when we met him with the President, first time we met in 2016,” he said.

“I heard it from the mouth of other ministers, and then again [during] last Shangri-La Dialogue, I heard that again from their minister of defense. So [there’s] nothing new [about] what they are saying,” he added.

In his speech, Zhao said the Chinese People’s Liberation Army is ready to strengthen its mutual trust and understanding with its Filipino counterpart.

Under the term of President Duterte, the Chinese PLA Navy has already conducted two goodwill visits to the Philippines.

Last January, a task force, consisting of two frigates and a replenishment ship docked in Manila for a four-day visit to the country.

Zhao also allayed fears that China seeks hegemony or spheres of influence in the region, emphasizing that the Asian power “remains committed to serving as a force for peace.”

“Despite the differences we have, we are ready to discuss with claimants over the differences we have. We always believe by law is much better than confrontation,” he said.

“And we all know these are very sensitive issues. For China, for the Philippines and for other claimant countries, it’s not easy to settle. It cannot be settled overnight. So we should be patient,” he added.

Pending this “peaceful settlement,” Zhao asked parties concerned to put differences in a proper context. “We cannot let the 1 percent differences, the whole 99 percent of friendship and cooperation as hostage,” he said. With Francisco Tuyay, PNA