Philippine Senators Sign Resolution against China’s ‘Creeping Hegemony’ in South China Sea

Jojo Riñoza and Luis Liwanag
Manila
2021-04-27
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Philippine Senators Sign Resolution against China’s ‘Creeping Hegemony’ in South China Sea Philippine activists carry signs outside the Chinese Consulate in Metropolitan Manila as they protest against Beijing’s maritime activities in disputed waters of the South China Sea, April 23, 2021.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

Philippine opposition senators, in a resolution Tuesday, accused Beijing of “creeping hegemony” in the South China Sea through what they described as the illegal presence of Chinese ships in Manila’s exclusive economic zone.

The 11 senators, mostly critics of President Rodrigo Duterte, released Resolution 708 that hit out at the lingering presence of Chinese vessels in disputed waters in the Spratly Islands, despite multiple diplomatic protests lodged by the Department of Foreign Affairs this month. 

“While China’s increasing dominance as regional and world power cannot be denied, its open and serious contempt of the UNCLOS, as well as its expansion of influence in the area at the expense of legitimate interests and legally recognized maritime entitlements of smaller nations like the Philippines, must be firmly resisted and denounced and the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration Award vigorously asserted,” said the resolution filed on Monday. 

UNCLOS refers to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The 2016 ruling supported the Philippines’ territorial claims to the South China Sea.

Close diplomatic ties and Manila’s acceptance of economic help from Beijing “should not be mistaken as acceptance of China’s creeping hegemony over our region and country,” the senators emphasized.

On Monday, Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon urged the president to rally the country’s neighbors and allies to form a united front against Beijing and its actions in the South China Sea. 

“Apart from the protests, which I support, we should, as an objective, get the other nations to confront China, including our allies – United States, Japan, and Australia. We must unite against the unlawful Chinese incursion in the West Philippine Sea,” Drilon told reporters, referring to the weeks-long presence of Chinese ships in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). 

The Duterte administration was aware of Tuesday’s resolution, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.

“The Palace respects that as the views of 11 policymakers of the country,” he told reporters.

Last week, President Duterte said he would send military ships into the disputed areas only if China began drilling for oil and minerals.

On Tuesday, the Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to BenarNews requests for comment.

Beijing had said in the past that it was not bound by the international arbitration court’s ruling in 2016. 

Chinese ships in EEZ

Two weeks ago, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea reported that government patrols had spotted an estimated 240 Chinese ships in Philippine waters – more than the 220 spotted in March. The West Philippine Sea is Manila’s designation for claimed territory in the South China Sea.

In mid-April, the task force said nine ships were still present at Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef), a shoal in the Spratly chain that became the epicenter of a bilateral flare-up when scores of Chinese ships were first spotted moored together there in early March. China also claims the reef as part of its territory.

Chinese ships and boats were also spotted in other areas in the South China Sea, including in Manila-claimed Pag-asa (Thitu) Island, the task force reported.

Philippine patrols, it said, had also seen Chinese navy ships, including two Houbei-class missile warships at Panganiban Reef, one Corvette-class warship at Fiery Cross Reef, and one Navy tugboat at Zamora Reef. 

Diplomatic protests

Last Friday, the Department of Foreign Affairs announced it had lodged two new diplomatic notes of protest with Beijing because, as of April 20, Philippine maritime law enforcement patrols had “observed the continuing unauthorized presence and activities” of 160 Chinese fishing vessels and Chinese Maritime Militia vessels in Philippine waters, it said.

The diplomatic notes “were in addition to the daily protests being filed by the DFA against the continuing presence of Chinese vessels in Julian Felipe Reef,” the foreign office said in a statement.

On Saturday in the West Philippine Sea, the Philippine Coast Guard began training exercises with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

“We are supporting the whole-of-nation approach in securing our maritime jurisdiction, especially the efforts of the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea to undertake maritime security, maritime safety, maritime law enforcement, maritime search and rescue, and marine environmental protection roles in our country’s waters,” Commodore Armando Balilo, said in a statement on the coast guard’s website.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea as its own, but five other Asian governments – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam – have territorial claims. While Indonesia does not regard itself as party to the South China Sea dispute, Beijing claims historic rights to parts of the sea overlapping Indonesia’s EEZ. 

On Saturday, the European Union’s External Action Service expressed concern about the Chinese ships and called for peaceful, diplomatic solutions.

“Tensions in the South China Sea, including the recent presence of large Chinese vessels at Whitsun Reef, endanger peace and stability in the region,” the EU said in a statement. “The EU reiterates its strong opposition to any unilateral actions that could undermine regional stability and the international rules-based order.”

Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato City, Philippines, contributed to this report. 

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