April 05, 2019

South China Sea: Filipino officials dial up the rhetoric

Agence France-Presse reports:

The Philippines on Thursday April 4 branded as "illegal" the recent presence of hundreds of Chinese ships near a disputed island in the South China Sea — a rare public rebuke of Beijing by Manila, which has backed off their once tense territorial standoff…

Pag-asa, also called Thitu island, is held by the Philippines, but in the first three months of the year at least 275 Chinese fishing and coast guard vessels were sighted in the area, the Philippines military said.

"The presence of Chinese vessels near and around Pag-asa (island) ... is illegal," the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement. "Such actions are a clear violation of Philippine sovereignty.”

Even Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte — who on April 2 said China was a “friend”despite the tensions in the South China Sea — told China on April 4 to stay away from Pag-asa:

“I will not plead or beg, but I am just telling you that lay off the Pagasa because I have soldiers there. If you touch it, that’s a different story. I will tell the soldiers ‘prepare for suicide mission.’”

Meanwhile, from Beijing, state news agency Xinhua reports that “China and the Philippines wrapped up their bilateral talks on the South China Sea issues yesterday, with both sides hoping for an early conclusion of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.”

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