PH-China dispute over Julian Felipe Reef does not yet warrant US intervention: analyst

Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 05 2021 02:47 PM | Updated as of Apr 05 2021 03:05 PM

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MANILA - The Philippines' dispute with China over the presence of the latter's ships at the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea does not yet call for Manila seeking Washington's help, a geopolitical analyst said Monday.

"I think the current situation is not yet calling for such options, yung calling the United States. I think we still have to exhaust all available diplomatic, political and legal option to at least urge China to slow down their activities in the South China Sea," Prof. Rommel Banlaoi, president of the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies, told ABS-CBN's Teleradyo.

It is good for the Philippines to be "friendly to all," he added.

Banlaoi said he does not know if the Philippines is ready for repercussions should it stop negotiating with China over their maritime disputes.

"Kung 'di tayo makikipag-usap sa China, may consequences po yan na dapat nating harapin. At hindi ko alam kung yung consequences na 'yun ay ready tayo na harapin yung mga yun," he said.

(If we won't talk to China, there will be consequences and I'm not sure if we're ready to face them.)

The 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty of the Philippines and the United States provides that a party may come to the aid of the other if the latter is under armed attack.

Last week, the national security advisers for the two countries discussed their shared concerns over Chinese activities in the South China Sea in a call, the White House said.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Philippines national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon "agreed that the United States and the Philippines will continue to coordinate closely in responding to challenges in the South China Sea," it said.

"Sullivan underscored that the United States stands with our Philippine allies in upholding the rules-based international maritime order, and reaffirmed the applicability of the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty in the South China Sea," it added.

The Philippines has been too generous with China, said Prof. Jay Batongbacal, head of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.

"Itong mga nakaraang taon, kabaligtaran 'yong nakikita nating lumalabas sa gobyerno. Masyadong mapagbigay. At one point, sinabi pa ni Presidente [Duterte] na pinayagan daw sila mangisda doon. Kaya nga, ayan ang nangyari, dahil sinabi niya 'yon. Talagang pumasok sila in force," he said.

(These past years, our government has been too generous. At one point, the President even said he would allow them to fish there. So that's what happened. They entered with force because of what he said.)

Manila last month lodged a diplomatic protest against Beijing over the presence beginning March 7 of around 200 Chinese ships at the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef), which is within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, off Palawan.

Chinese officials said the ships are fishing vessels taking shelter near the reef they call Niu'e Jiao, which they claim is part of China's Nansha Islands.

Several Chinese vessels have since been found in other areas in the West Philippine Sea.

Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio warned that the presence of the Chinese ships at the Julian Felipe Reef may be a prelude to occupation and building of military bases as China did on Mischief Reef, also in the West Philippine Sea, in 1995.

Reminding China that "its nine-dash line claim" in the South China Sea, of which the West Philippine Sea is a part, "is without any factual or legal basis" as ruled by the arbitral tribunal in 2016, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told the Chinese ships to leave Philippine territory.

On Sunday, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. said he is considering a demarche against China after its embassy in Manila reiterated that Julian Felipe Reef is Beijing's territory.

Canada, Australia, Japan, and the United Kingdom have also criticized China's recent actions in the international waterway through which at least $3.4 trillion of annual global trade passes.

- with report from Reuters