MANILA - Beijing's recent downplaying of its militarization in the South China Sea cannot hide its "bullying" of fellow claimants, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Tuesday.
China is building its military for self-defense and "will not take the first shot" as it seeks to resolve disputes with fellow claimants, Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua said Monday.
"Parang optics lang. It's good to be heard just to keep us siguro calm or pampalubag-loob sa atin," Lorenzana said of Zhao's remark.
"But the bottomline is hindi magkatugma yung sinasabi nila sa ginagawa nila sa WPS (West Philippine Sea)," he added.
(Perhaps that's just for optics. It's good to be heard just to keep us calm, maybe or as a consolation for us. But the bottom line is their words do now much their actions in the WPS.)
China has built artificial islands over disputed reefs and outcrops in resource-rich waters, including those claimed by the Philippines, sparking international concern.
"The way they took over Scarborough Shoal, to me, that is bullying," Lorenzana told reporters.
Filipino fishermen in April said Chinese Coast Guard ships drove them away from the shoal as wooden ships that bore China's flag harvested giant clams.
A suspected Chinese militia vessel meanwhile left 22 Filipino adrift for hours after bumping into and sinking their boat in Recto (Reed) Bank in June.
China remained the least trusted country by Filipinos, according to an opinion poll released earlier this month.
"The Chinese, since they started grabbing islands there and bullying people around, s'yempre nagdududa ‘yong mga tao (people have been doubting)," said Lorenzana.
"Until such time masabi ko na (that I can say) the behavior of the Chinese will match their rhetoric, then the low trust of the Philippines will continue," he added.
With a report from Jeff Canoy, ABS-CBN News