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Philippines moves in wrong direction
Publication Date : 14-01-2013
While the tree craves calm, the wind will not subside. This is a proverb the Chinese media frequently quoted last year when commenting on the rifts between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea.
At the start of the new year, the wind from Manila is again blowing in the wrong direction, as politicians in the country have made irresponsible remarks that will stir up new tensions in the disputed waters.
On Wednesday, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario asked China to explain its deployment of a patrol ship to guard islands and waters in the South China Sea, saying the move has sparked new tensions over the disputed waters. This is a false accusation and Manila's top diplomat should not forget that his own country raised the tensions in the disputed waters in the first place last year.
In April, a Filipino warship harassed Chinese fishermen who were fishing around Huangyan Island, which belongs to China. China's marine surveillance fleet had to rescue them. The incident triggered a standoff between Chinese surveillance ships and Filipino vessels and drove Sino-Philippine ties to their lowest ebb for years.
The more frequent presence of Chinese marine surveillance ships in these waters since then has been a response to Manila's provocative moves. The State Oceanic Administration, which is responsible for overseeing and safeguarding national maritime rights and interests, said on Thursday that it will continue to carry out regular patrols in China's territorial waters in the East China and South China seas. It is a normal practice for a sovereign state to patrol its territorial waters. Instead of feeling uncomfortable about it, Manila had better get use to it.
Also on Wednesday, Del Rosario said the Philippine government is mulling turning some of the disputed Nansha Islands into tourist destinations. The Philippine military had already said that the country may build infrastructure on them. All these constitute an open defiance to China's sovereignty as China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters and opposes any move that could impair China's sovereignty.
If Manila takes further steps in this regard, it is sure to meet with strong opposition as well as countermeasures from China. It is now crystal clear that Manila is determined to play the role of a troublemaker and seeks every opportunity to escalate tensions in the South China Sea.
To confront China over the issue, Manila has painstakingly enlisted support from other countries, including some from outside the region. Last year, it took steps to strengthen its military alliance with the United States, with the intention that once its disputes with China slip out of control the sole superpower will be dragged into a head-on confrontation with China.
The Philippines has also pledged support to Japan, which wants to play a bigger role in the region, and has proposed bilateral maritime security cooperation. On Thursday, after a meeting with visiting Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Del Rosario said they discussed Japanese help in improving the Philippines' coastguard capability.
According to Del Rosario, the Philippines is seriously considering acquiring 10 new patrol boats from Japan through soft loans or loans that have low interest rates with flexible payment terms under Japan's Official Development Assistance.
However, with Japan being involved in its own dispute with China over the Diaoyu Islands and the strong anti-Japanese sentiments in Philippine society, how far Manila and Tokyo can enhance their strategic partnership is open to question.
And neither country should make strategic misjudgement and underestimate China's determination to safeguard its territorial waters.