Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. denounced China’s “dangerous” and “unlawful” actions in the South China Sea, where Beijing has been asserting its claims over disputed waters and islands.
Speaking at a security forum in Hawaii on Sunday, Marcos said China’s coast guard and maritime militia vessels have been harassing Philippine ships and fishermen in the West Philippine Sea, the part of the South China Sea that Manila claims as its exclusive economic zone.
He cited a recent incident where a Chinese coast guard ship fired a water cannon at a Philippine vessel on a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal, a reef occupied by Filipino troops. He also mentioned China’s illegal fishing and militarization of reclaimed features in the sea.
“We must not allow tensions in the South China Sea to further escalate,” Marcos said. “The Philippines will not give a single square inch of our territory.”
Marcos’s remarks came after his visit to the US Indo-Pacific Command, where he met with its chief, Admiral John Aquilino, to discuss regional developments and the role of the Philippine-US alliance in promoting peace and stability.
US Siding with the Philippines?
The US is the Philippines’ oldest treaty ally and has pledged to defend the country in case of an armed attack in the South China Sea. The two countries also conduct regular joint military exercises and share intelligence and equipment.
Marcos said he appreciated the US’s support for the Philippines’ sovereign rights and interests in the sea, as well as its efforts to uphold the rule of law and freedom of navigation and overflight.
He also expressed hope that the US and China would find ways to cooperate and manage their differences peacefully, without compromising the rights and interests of other countries in the region.
The South China Sea is one of the world’s busiest waterways, where about a third of global trade passes through. It is also rich in fish and potential oil and gas resources. China claims almost the entire sea, overlapping with the claims of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
In 2016, an international arbitration tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines and invalidated China’s sweeping claims. China rejected the ruling and continued to build and fortify artificial islands in the sea.
Marcos, who took office in 2022 after winning a controversial election, has adopted a tough stance against China’s actions in the sea, unlike his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, who sought closer ties with Beijing and downplayed the maritime dispute.
Marcos has also sought to strengthen the Philippines’ relations with other countries in the region, such as Japan, Australia, India and Indonesia, as well as with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which is working on a code of conduct with China to prevent conflicts in the sea.