DFA chief Manalo: West PH Sea issue not sum total of PH-China ties

Anjo Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 13 2022 10:53 PM

MANILA — Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo on Thursday said the entirety of the Philippines’ ties with China does not hinge on their territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

However, the country’s top diplomat said the 2 countries’ differences—which he described as between friends—will continue to be handled with a friendly approach.

“When we deal with China, we say our differences on the West Philippine Sea is not the sum total of our relationship with China. So in other words, this is a very complex and dynamic relationship,” Manalo said at an open forum in the Ateneo De Manila University (ADMU)’s Makati City campus, where he gave a lecture.

“We will not let that issue dominate our entire relationship with China, and I think many countries in the world have the same approach.”

He noted the Philippines’ “extensive” relations with the Asian superpower particularly in trade, investments, and people-to-people contact.

“We will see how we will maintain cooperation with China in areas where we will benefit, but at the same time we will alert them to any differences of issues which continue to cause serious concern to us, and this includes the issues in the West Philippine Sea,” he said.

He added the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has tried and continues to try many diplomatic options to resolve differences via diplomacy, but that this cannot be “achieved overnight”.

Manalo devoted part of his lecture about the foreign policy directions and challenges of the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to addressing Philippine-China ties.

The career diplomat called the 2016 ruling by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) as the “twin anchors” of the Philippines’ policies and strategies on the dispute.

China refuses to recognize the arbitral ruling that negated its historical claim to the area as without basis.

“We are cognizant that the situation in the South China Sea is a strategic challenge that cannot be readily solved,” Manalo said in the lecture.

“The Philippines, as a goal, wants the South China Sea to be a sea of peace, stability and security. But this can only be realized through an international rules-based order and a peaceful resolution of disputes.”

He added the Philippines will not accept “unilateral actions that push the region into instability and eventually into an unprecedented arms race”.

Thus, he said the country will keep protesting any actions leading to militarization of the maritime area or caused damage to the marine environment.


The foreign affairs chief reiterated the Philippines’ push under Marcos Jr. to be a “friend to all, enemy to none”—words the president said both during his first State of the Nation Address in July and his first address to the United Nations General Assembly in September.

In his first 100 days in office, President Marcos Jr. already met with United States President Joe Biden and pursued more active ties with the long-time ally.

These actions have been seen as a departure from that of his predecessor President Rodrigo Duterte, who pivoted toward Beijing and Moscow and even avoided state visits to Western capitals.

Marcos Jr. has also put forward a clear policy on the West Philippine Sea dispute, vowing in his SONA not to surrender “any square inch” of Philippine territory.

However, Manalo said this remains in line with the country’s “independent” foreign policy.

“When the president said we are friends to all, it doesn’t mean we’re going to lay on our back and do whatever they want. Of course we are all friends, of course there are differences,” Manalo said.

“Because even amongst friends there are issues which we have to address which maybe we don’t agree on. But they are still basically going to be done with a friendly approach.”

Manalo added in his lecture the Philippines will also keep reinforcing its relations with so-called “middle powers” such as Japan, Korea, India, Indonesia and Australia, and committing to the progress of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“Our foreign policy is not premised on straddling the interests of a bipolar world,” he said.

“Diversifying our partnerships affords us with more options for development financing, ensuring market access, and generating support for our individual diplomatic initiatives and advocacies.”

He said the Marcos Jr. administration faces “the daunting task” of steering the Philippines through a “historic” period following the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian war with Ukraine.

Aside from the South China Sea dispute, Manalo said the Marcos Jr. foreign policy also includes calling for “bolder collective action” against the effects of climate change, which greatly affect the country.

Manalo added the Philippines will also continue to lead in the promotion of migrant’s rights, international migration governance, and the implementation of the Global Compact for Migration.

This, he said, would also entail the DFA working closely with the newly created Department of Migrant Workers to look after the welfare of overseas Filipinos.

Manalo’s lecture is the second talk under the yearly Ambassador Rodolfo Severino Jr. Endowment Lecture Series, in honor of the late Filipino journalist and diplomat who died in 2019.

Former foreign secretary Albert Del Rosario gave the inaugural lecture in 2021, where he discussed the need for a code of conduct on the South China Sea.


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