MANILA - Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Monday defended China from allegations it was using its COVID-19 assistance to prevent any criticisms of its activities in the South China Sea.
Locsin made the remark in response to Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, who said China could be using cooperation “as a way to leverage against any criticisms of China... for its activities in the West Philippine Sea.”
“Leave the Chinese embassy in Manila alone. It never made a connection between medical help and legal claim,” Locsin said in a tweet.
"China’s anti-COVID assistance has been impeccable and cannot be accused of being covert. Covid/covert. Get the play on words?"
Last week, the Philippines filed diplomatic protests against China’s pointing of a radar gun at a Philippine Navy ship in Philippine waters and declaring parts of Philippine territory as part of Hainan province, violating international law and Philippine sovereignty.
Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario earlier accused China of “exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic” in pursuing its illegal and expansive claims” in the South China Sea, “to the prejudice of Filipinos, the ASEAN states and the international community.”
Del Rosario urged Filipinos to remain vigilant “in the defense of our country’s territory and sovereign rights even as we confront a very grave threat as COVID-19.”
The United States had also accused China of taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic by “exerting military pressure and coercing its neighbors” in the South China Sea.
China continues to disregard a 2016 arbitration ruling that declared its historical claim of almost the entire South China Sea as having no legal basis.
The landmark decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague recognized the Philippines' maritime entitlements to some of the disputed features in the South China Sea, and took note as well of the environmental damage caused by China's reclamation activities there.
China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan have competing claims in the South China Sea.