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PHL GIRDS FOR ESCALATION OF WPS ‘WAR’ WITH CHINA; Marcos eyes new strategy on sea feud

By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief

MANILA/TOKYO – Eyeing new strategies to counter China’s aggression in South China Sea (SCS) and West Philippine Sea (WPS), the Philippines is girding for an escalation of hostilities in the region even as it plans to launch new gas explorations within its exclusive economic zone and territory.

Declaring that the country’s diplomatic efforts with Beijing over the years were headed “in a poor direction” as China was disregarding traditional efforts, Marcos said in Tokyo that the Philippines needed new “paradigm shift” or approaches the South China Sea issue.

“To this point, we have resorted to the traditional methods of diplomacy … but we have been doing this for many years now, with very little progress,” said Marcos, who was in Japan for Tokyo’s commemorative summit with the Association of Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN).

Marcos noted that the Philippines has taken three legal steps, which include filing a diplomatic protest to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, summoning Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian, and making a “demarche to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials” to call out the China Coast Guard (CCG).

He, however, lamented that the Philippines’ current efforts to address the WPS issues seem to be not working.

He said the situation in the WPS will not improve if the Philippines continues to deal with China the same way it is dealing with the current situation in the contested waters.

“We have to do something that we have not done before. We have to come up with a new concept, a new principle, a new idea so that we move, as I say, we move the needle the other way,” Marcos said.

“It’s time that the countries that feel that they have an involvement in this situation, we have to come up with a paradigm shift,” Marcos said, while reiterating the Philippines wants to avoid violent conflict.

Also in Tokyo, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Japan affirmed last Sunday the importance of upholding the international law, including the UN Charter and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to secure the peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region which covers the contested South China Sea.

According to Malacanang, during the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit in Tokyo, the leaders also approved the Implementation Plan of the Joint Vision Statement which also called to “further strengthen cooperation on security, maritime cooperation and connectivity based on the rule of law.”

The plan also included the “freedom and safety of navigation and overflight and unimpeded commerce, enhanced maritime domain awareness, as well as cooperation among coastguards and relevant law enforcement agencies.

Earlier, a senior Philippine military official said the country is crafting new plans,  including a scenario where crew repel Chinese forces attempting to board Philippine vessels.

Ties between the Philippines and China have deteriorated lately after several collisions, water cannoning and repeated standoffs prompting the Philippines to accuse China in several diplomatic protests of aggressive, deliberate and dangerous maneuvers.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. rebuked China for accusing the Philippines of provoking tension and stirring trouble in the South China Sea, saying only Beijing believed what it was saying.

“Truth and in fact, no country in the world, none, supports unequivocally their claim to the whole of South China Sea,”  Teodoro said.

Marcos added that the Philippines might be compelled to hold talks not just with its partners in the Indo-Pacific region but with “the rest of the world” to deescalate the tension in the WPS.

“We do not want to go the point where there are incidents that might cause an actual violent conflict. Maybe from a mistake or a misunderstanding and these things happen all the time,” he said.

Marcos, however, clarified  that he would prefer a “less of confrontational method” to settle the issues with China.

Former Senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, in a related development, said the Philippines should not get intimidated by China and must act now by securing Reed Bank, also called the Recto Bank, as President Marcos seeks other ways to protect the country’s territory.

“We should be sending our survey ship and drill ship already to Reed Bank, accompanied by our Navy. At the same time, we should be conducting joint maritime patrols with the US,” Carpio said in a television interview.

Carpio said it was the same strategy that Malaysia and Indonesia did to get gas in their exclusive economic zone (EEZ) despite threats from China.

“We don’t need China to recognize our EEZ. As long as we get our natural resources in our EEZ, then we are winning,” Carpio pointed out.

The Reed Bank reportedly holds the most oil and gas reserves in the West Philippine Sea. The 2016 arbitral ruling declared it as part of Manila’s 200-nautical mile EEZ, thus the Philippines has the sole right to exploit resources in the area.

Developing the Recto Bank is also important for the Philippines as supply from the Malampaya gas field is expected to dry out in two to three years, Carpio added

Carpio said the Reed Bank is two to three times larger than Malampaya, so it is a good source of gas for at least 60 years.

In another development, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar supported Marcos’ “paradigm shift” in dealing with China.

“So, probably a change in a way that will enable us to achieve the desired result as far as China’s behavior is concerned,” Aguilar said, adding the AFP is always ready to implement what the government decides to do when it comes to addressing China’s aggression.