MANILA – Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Friday warned China of “the severest response” if its naval drills in the South China Sea “spill over” to the Philippine territory.
Locsin, in a video statement, said the Philippines views with “interest and some concern” the ongoing exercises by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in waters off Paracel Islands, a group of islands disputed by China and Vietnam.
From July 1 to 5, Locsin said Beijing is prohibiting any vessel from navigating within the area and that vessels will have to follow the guidance of a commanding Chinese ship on the site.
“The Chinese naval military exercises, if they stick to their coordinates, do not impinge on Philippine territory. These exercises are taking place in waters off Xisha Islands —the Paracels — over which Vietnam claims sovereignty. Should the exercises spill over to Philippine territory then China is forewarned that it will be met with the severest response, diplomatic and whatever else is appropriate,” he said.
Locsin noted that China, like any other naval power, is entitled to invoking the freedom of navigation in its military drills but this freedom “requires a straight and uninterrupted voyage”.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had earlier described the Chinese naval exercises within a contested area in the South China Sea as “alarming” and “highly-provocative”.
The South China Sea where the Paracel Islands and Spratlys are located is being claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, China, and Taiwan.
Locsin reiterated that Beijing’s self-declared districts in the region are “null and void ab initio [from the beginning] for being devoid of basis in international law”.
“This is the problem with playing fast and loose with historical narratives and historical names; they open themselves to error; unless the real purpose is to excuse unchallenged mistakes that may over time harden into rights,” he said.
Meanwhile, Locsin said Manila continues to look to Beijing as its biggest trading partner.
He also recognized its “essential” presence and participation in the success of any post-coronavirus recovery as he called on all parties to refrain from escalating tension and abide by the responsibilities under international law.
“We urge them to adhere to the rule of law and their commitments to international instruments such as the 2002 Declaration of the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea, particularly the exercise of self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability especially in this pandemic,” he said. (PNA)