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Manila frowns at China law on sea missiles

THE PHILIPPINES on Monday said the use of force is prohibited under international law, as China passed a law allowing its coast guard to fire at foreign vessels in the South China Sea.

“The use of force is generally prohibited,” presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque told an online news briefing. States may use force in self-defense or when authorized by the United Nations (UN) Security Council, he added.

Any laws passed by nations must be according to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which China had agreed to, Mr. Roque said.

“Hopefully, no country involved in the issue of the West Philippine Sea would worsen the situation,” he said in Filipino, referring to parts of the disputed way within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zones.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte wants claimants to disputed areas in the South China Sea to finish a proposed code of conduct and adhere to it to ease tensions, Mr. Roque said.

“It’s not amusing that in the middle of the pandemic, China passed such law,” Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel told an online news briefing in Filipino.

“While China peddles coronavirus vaccines as a global public good, it trashes the remaining peace in the West Philippine Sea,” she added.

The National People’s Congress standing committee of China passed the Coast Guard Law that will allow its coast guard to use “all necessary means” against foreign vessels that threaten them, according to the South China Morning Post.

Ms. Baraquel said the measure would escalate tensions in the disputed waterway. “Once they do that in line with military practices, it can only further harm, not help the improvement of the atmosphere of problem-solving through political and diplomatic means.”

She urged the Philippine military to plan a strategy should there be threats to the Philippines.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 favored the Philippines in a lawsuit that rejected China’s claim to more than 80% of the South China Sea based on its nine-dash line drawn on a 1940s map.

China has rejected the ruling but continues to negotiate with the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations to come up with a code of conduct.

China has been building artificial islands in the disputed Spratly Islands and setting up installations including several runways.

The Philippine Foreign Affairs department last year filed diplomatic protests against China over a naval weapon-pointing incident and an attempt to set up two new districts within Philippine territory in the South China Sea.

VACCINE DIPLOMACY
“We must not allow China to shake our hand on vaccine procurement, but stab us in the back on the West Philippine Sea,” Ms. Baraquel said.

The senator last week said China’s vaccine diplomacy might be in exchange for the Philippines’ interest in the South China Sea.

The Foreign Affairs department and vaccine Czar Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. have both assured the senator that the vaccine donations were not tied to territorial considerations.

The United States in November reaffirmed its stance to maintain order in the Indo-Pacific region.

Former White House National Security Adviser Robert C. O’Brien said there was a consensus among US republicans and democrats on the US stand against China’s aggression in the region.

Mr. O’Brien said there was a bipartisan consensus on China’s unfair trade practices and its attempt to coerce its neighbors and other areas including Taiwan.

The US had donated precision-guided missiles and munitions, including 100 TOW-2A missiles, 12 ITAS, and 24 MK-82s worth $18 million to the Philippine military.

Mr. O’Brien reaffirmed the US commitment to activate the Mutual Defense Treaty in case the Philippines is attacked by an enemy.

He said the US in July aligned its official position on the 2016 United Nations arbitral ruling on the South China Sea.

The resources in the disputed waters “belong to the Philippine people,” Mr. O’Brien said.

Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in February 2019 said any attacks on Philippine aircraft or ships in the South China Sea would trigger a response from the US under the Mutual Defense Treaty.

His comments sought to reassure the Philippines amid China’s island-building activities in the South China Sea.

Three American aircraft carriers patroled the Indo-Pacific waters for the first time in nearly three years in June, a massive show of naval force in a region roiled by spiking tensions between the US and China.

The patrol of the three warships, accompanied by Navy cruisers, destroyers, fighter jets and other aircraft came as the US escalated criticism of China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, its moves to impose greater control over Hong Kong and its island-building activities in the waterway. — Norman P. Aquino, Charmaine A. Tadalan and KATA

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