PRESIDENT Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. should veer away from his predecessor’s foreign policy and assert the country’s claims in the South China Sea, a coalition said on Monday, a day before the sixth anniversary of the Philippines’ arbitral victory in its sea dispute with China.
“If he decides to follow the Duterte administration’s defeatist policy on China, and if he crumbles before Beijing’s bullying and abandons our fisherfolk, the Filipino youth will make sure that he regrets it,” the West Philippine Sea Coalition said in a statement.
The group, which is composed of sectoral groups and former government officials, said the government should craft a foreign policy that is consistent with the arbitral ruling of the United Nations-backed tribunal that invalidated China’s claim to more than 80% of the sea.
Mr. Marcos’ decisions on the matter should also be “based on constant dialogue and consultations with stakeholders.”
It also asked the Marcos government to challenge China’s recent fishing ban within Philippine-claimed areas and protect Filipino fisherfolk there.
The government should also maximize regional and international platforms to build alliances with nation-states “that share our principles and values in the region,” it said.
“It should review all China-funded infrastructure projects and rescind all those that undermine the Philippines’ sovereignty and national security.”
The South China Sea, a key global shipping route, is subject to overlapping territorial claims involving the Philippines, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. Each year, trillions of dollars of trade flow through the sea, which is also rich in fish and gas.
Ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte led a foreign policy pivot to China away from the US when he took office in 2016 in exchange for investment pledges, most of which have never materialized.
The Philippines in May filed a diplomatic protest against China for its unilateral imposition of a three-and-half-month fishing ban in some areas of the South China Sea.
The Philippines has “sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction” over the disputed areas of the waterway, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a diplomatic note dated May 30, citing the country’s 2016 arbitral award that China has ignored.
The fishing ban is expected to last until Aug. 16.
The coalition also urged Vice-President Sara Duterte-Carpio, who heads the Department of Education, to ensure the historical, legal and environmental aspects of the country’s sea dispute with China are taught in schools.
“The lesson to impart here is that the West Philippine Sea is not some arbitrary spot on a map,” it said, referring to areas of the South China within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. “It is part of our home, and a living, breathing piece of this nation.”
Earlier this month, Mr. Marcos said the Philippines and China should explore avenues of cooperation and not just discuss territorial disputes.
Mr. Marcos has tagged China as the Philippines’ “strongest partner” in pandemic recovery efforts, saying their relationship is very important and advantageous to both countries.
DFA earlier this year summoned a senior Chinese Embassy official as it accused Beijing of harassing a research vessel near the Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea.
The shoal, which the Philippines calls Ayungin, forms part of its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, DFA said.
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday said he expects relations between China and the Philippines to reach a “golden era” under the Marcos administration.
“I’m confident that with both sides working together, we can surely open up a new golden era for the bilateral relationship,” he said in Chinese during a meeting with Philippine envoys in Pasay City near the capital, a voice recording of which was sent to reporters by DFA.
The Chinese state councilor was the first foreign counterpart to be received by newly appointed Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique A. Manalo, who used to be the country’s permanent representative to the United Nations, when he arrived in the Philippines on Wednesday.
Mr. Wang said he appreciates Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., who called China the country’s “strongest partner.”
“He hopes to deepen and build an even stronger relationship with China, so we are ready to work towards that same direction with the Philippines and to plan for our cooperation moving forward, in all areas of our comprehensive strategic partnership,” he said. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza