That the Rodrigo Duterte-led Philippines has explicitly sided with China since 2016 is no secret. In fact, Duterte is considered by many as the only President who was seen alienating the United States, and aligning with Beijing. However, that has now changed. In perhaps what comes as the sternest warning to China from the South East Asian countries, the Philippines has threatened the use of all means necessary to respond to any Chinese misadventures in their territory. Speaking to the same effect, the Foreign Secretary of Philippines, Teodoro Locsin Jr said China’s People’s Liberation Army-Navy has been staging exercises off the Paracel Islands since July 1 and Chinese maritime officials have prohibited all vessels from navigating within the area of the manoeuvres.
The Paracel Islands lie over 180 kilometres away from closest Chinese territory, yet, being the absurd nation that China is, it claims the islands, much like the entire sea, as its sovereign zone, in which other smaller nations can operate too, however, not without Chinese permission. Since July 1, China’s military is conducting aggressive exercises in and around these Islands, and has cautioned all parties, saying, “during the period (of the exercise), no vessel shall be allowed to navigate (in the large training area and) all vessels have to follow the guidance of the commanding ship on site.”
The Paracel Islands are rightfully claimed by Vietnam, and they are naturally furious with China’s aggressive posturing. The Philippines, however, has emerged as a surprise guest to the party, and has issued a stern warning to China. “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,” Teodoro Locsin said in a statement. He further called on “the erring parties to refrain from escalating tensions and abide by the responsibilities under international law” and exercise self-restraint in taking actions that could escalate disputes.
The language used by the Philippines is highly indicative of what China can expect in case of any misadventures. Diplomatic offensive will definitely be mounted, however, all other means to respond and retaliate too, have not been ruled out by the Philippines Foreign Secretary. A military response too is very much on the mind of Philippines if things were to go a tad bit south with China.
The aggressive signalling by Philippines come in the backdrop of Rodrigo Duterte perhaps realising his folly of alienating the US. Such was the Beijing craze of Duterte, that his government was all set to terminate the “Visiting Forces Agreement” with the United States. President Duterte had warned in January that he would repeal the military pact that allows US troops in the country, and it was supposed to come to an end in August. However, only recently, the Philippine Ambassador to US announced, “Because of security issues…in that part of the world (South China Sea), both our governments have seen it would be prudent for us to simply suspend any implementation of the termination.”
Late last month, In the 36th ASEAN summit held in Hanoi, Vietnam, the leaders of Vietnam and the Philippines sent a tough message against the “bullying behaviour” of China. They argued that some rogue nations, which do not abide by international rules, had increased activity in the South China Sea. While the Vietnamese Prime Minister, on expected lines, called out Chinese belligerence in the region, what again came as a pleasant surprise was Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte slamming Chinese behaviour in the South China Sea and raising the issue of Beijing’s unilateral declaration of new administrative districts on the islands of South China Sea, on which Vietnam and Philippines have competing claims. “Even as our region struggles to contain COVID-19, alarming incidents in the South China Sea occurred,” Duterte said.
The COVID-19 pandemic seems to be serving as a wakeup call for leaders like Rodrigo Duterte who were going astray and leaning increasingly towards Beijing. The past few months have helped lift the shroud from the CCP regime’s face. Coupled with their unnatural and ill-timed belligerence against all neighbours, China has lost whatever little friends it had in the world community.