MANILA - China called on the Philippines and the United States to ensure the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed between the two treaty allies on Monday is justifiable and consistent with the principle of regional peace and stability.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang made the statement on Wednesday in response to questions on whether China believed the EDCA, which increases US military presence in the Philippines, is an attempt by the US to contain Beijing.
“We also maintain that upholding peace and stability of the Asia Pacific is in the interest of all parties of the region and requires common efforts of all. It is justifiable for people to ask that any agreement between the US and the Philippines be consistent with this principle and not at the cost of mutual trust between regional countries and regional peace and stability,” Qin said in a press conference.
US President Barack Obama wrapped up his four-nation Asia tour on Tuesday after visiting the Philippines and the signing of the EDCA.
Obama said the Philippines will not stand alone when confronting external attacks, as the US is firm in its commitment to help its ally under a 63-year-old mutual defense agreement.
The new defense deal seeks to advance the implementation of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines by strengthening external defense and maritime security.
“With regard to President Obama’s visit to the four Asian countries, we have expounded on our principled position on China-related issues. We believe that relevant parties should all make positive efforts to enhance mutual trust and cooperation and promote common peace, stability and prosperity in this region, rather than the opposite. The Pacific Ocean should be kept pacific,” Qin said.
The Philippines said on Wednesday the US is obliged to help the country in the event its troops or its territory is attacked, including in the disputed waters in the South China Sea.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the Mutual Defense Treaty with the US would come into play if any Philippine territory in the Pacific area comes under attack.
Del Rosario pointed out that the US, in a diplomatic letter in 1999, had affirmed the South China Sea is considered part of the Pacific area.
On the other hand, President Aquino slammed the foreign blockade of Ayungin Shoal that is making it difficult for the Philippines to guard its territorial domain in the West Philippine Sea.
Aquino pointed out the Filipino troops in Ayungin Shoal have been constantly harassed by foreign ships.
“You might have heard of this. Nine Marines led by First Lt. Mike Pelotera were supposed to be at Ayungin for only three months but they stayed there for almost five months. The reason: foreign ships repeatedly blocked our navy ship bringing in troops to replace them, shooing us away from a territory that is not theirs but is rightfully ours,” Aquino said during the command turnover of the Navy leadership at Sangley Point in Cavite on Wednesday.
Ayungin Shoal is within the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and currently being guarded by a contingent of Marines stationed at the grounded Navy ship BRP Sierra Madre.
Aquino lauded the troops in the Sierra Madre for being steadfast in guarding the shoal amid China’s aggressive claim over the area since last year.
Two Chinese coast guard vessels deployed at Ayungin since May last year tried to block a Filipino vessel bringing in food and fresh troops to relieve their colleagues in the Sierra Madre last month.
Troops on forward deployment in Ayungin as well as those stationed in the country’s regime of islands in the region are rotated every three months but the “Ayungin 9” remained at the Sierra Madre for an extended time due to the Chinese naval blockade.
“Aboard our BRP Sierra Madre, in a real sense of the word, they live in a water world because wherever they may look, it’s all water around them. Yet, despite these challenges and sacrifices, being away from their families and sleeping in the cold of the night, they continue to perform their duties,” the President said.
Also known as Second Thomas Shoal, Ayungin has become a new flashpoint in the South China Sea, which according to regional security experts, is a vital area.
The maritime hotspots in the area have been spawned by China’s encompassing territorial claim to almost the entire region and deploying its surveillance vessels and warships as it aggressively engages other countries laying claim to the islands, specifically the Philippines and Vietnam.
“China is becoming increasingly assertive in its claims and its recent move to block Philippine boats carrying supplies to their troops stationed in the Second Thomas Shoal is indicative of this trend,” said The Diplomat, an international current affairs magazine for the Asia-Pacific region in its report the other day. – With Jaime Laude, Evelyn Macairan