PHILIPPINE President Rodrigo Duterte is facing mounting pressure at home to be more robust in his response to Chinese aggression as tensions between the two countries surge.
Beijing and Manila have found themselves locked in a bitter diplomatic row over the ownership of the South China Sea, with both countries claiming a right to the strategically important area. In the latest escalation, the Philippine Foreign Ministry has cancelled all diplomatic passports after former foreign secretary, Albert del Rosario, was turned away from entering Hong Kong on a business trip last Friday.
It has not been confirmed why he was stopped at the airport, but it is believed to be in response to criticism of the Chinese government and in particular, President Xi Jinping.
Just months ago he joined forces with former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales to sue the Chinese leader at the International Criminal Court for atrocious actions in the South China Sea.
Last week, he declared that China couldn’t be trusted and accused them of crimes against humanity in the wake of alleged China involvement in the sinking of a Fillipino fishing boat.
Filipino protestors were seen torching Chinese flags after they were angered at the President’s soft response to the incident after claiming the incident was just a collision.
The developments come as tensions reach breaking point between the two nations. Last week the US Ambassador to the Philippines, Sung Kim, said that an armed attack on Fillipino property would trigger a US response under the Mutual Defence Treaty.
The latest passport diplomacy has been slammed by Mr del Rosario, who said that cancelling passports was a distraction and not the response that was needed to the current crisis.
“Instead of fully investigating what the Philippines should be doing to respond to this disrespect, they are instead distracting the public by cancelling diplomatic passports,” he said.
Pressure has mounted between the two nations on South China Sea territory (Image: TED ALJIBE / Contributor)
But senior figures in the Chinese government have slammed claims that it was unlawful to deny entry to the country.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Lu Kang, said that it was entirely within China’s sovereignty to allow or deny entry, while Fillipino politician and former journalist, Teddy Locsin Jr, also waded in on the issue.
He tweeted: “It is not ‘unlawful’; it is a courtesy to those who have ceased doing the job requiring blue passports. We don’t want to have them out there dishonoured by foreign immigration by rejection. Just protecting national honor, sir. We may restore it but insist it be the only passport.”
Regional journalists believe the incidents will affect Hong Kong’s reputation for business and has led to several former dignitaries slamming the move. Retired ambassador Victoria Bataclan said she would tear her diplomatic passport in protest of China’s imperialists.
Retired ambassador, Lauro Baja, said that despite not being the foreign secretary, Mr del Rosario should still have been given a reason why he was treated in the way he was.
The South China Sea is a hotly contested area, with several states jostling for territory in the region. The sea is of high importance to western culture, with an estimated $3.37 trillion worth of global trade passing through its waters. The volume is so high the sea accounts for a third of all international maritime trade.