PHILIPPINES’ top defence official has accused China of “bullying” in the South China Sea as it continues to occupy islands with Manila’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Beijing’s behaviour in the region goes against any claims of wanting peace. Mr Lorenzana accusation comes after China took control of the Scarborough Shoal which lies 200km from the Philippine cost, according to South China Morning Post (SCMP). Following a stand off with Philippine vessels, Beijing ignored a 2016 ruling by The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration that found its actions violated Manila’s sovereign rights.
Mr Lorenzana told Rappler: “Well, the way they took over Scarborough Shoal, to me that was bullying.”
His claims come after President Rodrigo Duterte agreed with China’s leader Xi Jinping he could have access to Recto Bank if Filipino fishermen were not blocked from going into Scarborough Shoal.
Mr Lorenzana previously express hope for greater military cooperation with Beijing on Tuesday.
At an event celebrating the 92nd anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army, he hoped for “productive and beneficial cooperation and partnership agreements” with the Chinese military.
Mr Lorenzana said: “Our country’s defence force joins you not only in your celebration, but also in manifesting the values of solidarity and amity with the rest of the world, affirming our strong equipment to peace, security, and stability in the world.”
Political science professor Zhang Baohuia told SCMP: “While Duterte has been eager to cultivate a new relationship with China, the Philippine military occasionally voices concerns for China’s policies in disputed areas.
“So the Defence Ministry’s benign signalling shows a greater convergence of Duterte’s China policy and that of the military, at least on paper.”
Mr Lorenzana defended Duterte’s “middle ground position” in the South China Sea which the public have been critical of.
A survey by Pulse Asia Research found 74 percent of Filipinos said they had little or no trust in China.
Professor Jay L. Batongbacal believe Mr Lorenzana’s change of tone towards China reflects the public’s attitude.
He told SCMP: “He knows and cannot deny the sentiments of the public, and I am sure the dissatisfaction is also reflected within the armed forces.
“China-Philippines ties are cordial and non-antagonistic. But I don’t believe that the two parties have fully identified or settled what their common interests in security and peace really are.”