President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Thursday said he does not feel alluded to after Beijing expressed strong opposition to what it described as "meddling" in the South China Sea issue.
Speaking to reporters, the President said the Chinese government's statement was more for the United States than the Philippines. This, after US defense chief Lloyd Austin reaffirmed America's ironclad commitment to protect Manila's territorial claims to the West Philippine Sea.
"'Yang statement na 'yan sa palagay ko hindi naka direct sa Pilipinas," he said.
Marcos said the Philippines' actions in continuing to strengthen capabilities and forging partnerships with the US, both in governmental sector and private corporations, "[are] only right and proper because the Philippines needs to do this in order to go forward."
"Hindi naman masasabi na walang karapatan ang Pilipinas na gawin lahat yun," he added.
Marcos and Austin earlier reaffirmed the two countries' commitments under the Mutual Defense Treaty, which covers "their respective Coast Guards in the Pacific, including anywhere in the South China Sea."
This was based on the Bilateral Defense Guidelines, established on May 3 by Acting Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez and Austin.
"Make no mistake Mr. President, we will always have your back in the South China Sea or elsewhere in the region," Austin told Marcos in his speech.
In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning said the US-Philippines defense guidelines, which laid out plans to modernize alliance cooperation for the two countries, are a bilateral arrangement.
"China firmly opposes any country’s move to meddle in the South China Sea issue to harm China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests by citing the guidelines," Mao said.
"I would like to stress that the South China Sea is the shared home for countries in the region, not a hunting ground for forces outside the region. When regional countries are committed to mutual trust, solidarity, cooperation and properly handling differences, they have in their hand the key to peace and stability in the South China Sea," she added.
The Philippine Coast Guard earlier said some 100 Chinese ships remained at the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) in the West Philippine Sea, over a week since they were first monitored in the area.
Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, ignoring an international ruling that the assertion has no legal basis.
To back Beijing's claim, hundreds of Chinese coast guard and other vessels patrol the waters, swarming reefs and harassing and attacking fishing and other boats.
— With a report from Agence France-Presse