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PHL MOUNTS COUNTER MEASURES VS CHINA; Biden, Xi tackle woes, issues to diffuse tension as White House summit nears


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MANILA/WASHINGTON – As President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. readies for an April 11 summit at the White House with US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on economy, defense and security, the Philippine leader set into motion countermeasures against China’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea, vowing that the country will not be “cowed into silence” by Beijing after China Coast Guard attacked Philippine vessels again that injured Filipino troops and damaged the vessels and harassed by helicopter Filipino scientists conducting maritime surveys there.

Amid the high tension, US President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping held their first direct talks on Tuesday since personally meeting in November where they had agreed to open military communications.

“The two leaders welcomed ongoing efforts to maintain open channels of communication and responsibly manage the relationship through high-level diplomacy and working-level consultations in the weeks and months ahead…,” the White House said.

During their over 30 minutes of phone conversation, Biden and Xi discussed the escalating tension in Taiwan and the Philippines which the US leader said he hoped would be diffused.

Biden and Xi tackled ways to manage competition, avoid conflict and keep lines of communication open, the White House added .

In a statement on social media, Marcos said he has ordered the implementation of a “response and countermeasure package” in the face of China’s continued aggression in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

The United States, Australia, Japan and the Philippines, meanwhile, are planning anti-submarine drills in the South China Sea during this month’s annual Balikatan military exercises jointly by Filipinos, Americans and troops from other countries. The drills will also include targeting a vessel in the sea with missiles and joint patrol by US, Philippines, France and Australian ships. (See related stories)

The United States and several countries condemned China for its continued aggression.

The US also again affirmed its “ironclad” commitment to its defense treaty with the Philippines in the wake of the latest water cannon attack by China. 

The United States government condemned China’s latest aggression as it again reaffirmed its “ironclad” support for the Philippines following China’s latest “attacks” on Philippine vessels in an effort to prevent a resupply mission in the West Philippine Sea and harass Filipino marine scientists.

The Philippine government again denounced China’s latest “dangerous manuevers” and threats, vowing to make counter measures to prevent similar incidents even as China justified its act, accusing Philippines of violating its sovereignty which the Philippines branded as “all Chinese lies.”

The US expressed its grave concern as US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III called Secretary of National Defense Gilberto Teodoro Jr. to express their commitment under the  Philippines-United States Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951.

The United States, the European Union, Japan, Australia and about 16 other countries expressed support to the Philippines and the rule of law, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila.

South Korea’s foreign ministry also expressed “grave concerns” over China’s recent use of water cannons against Philippine ships.

“We are gravely concerned about the recent and repeated use of water cannons in the South China Sea,” Seoul’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Lim Soo-suk.

These developed as Senator Imelda Imee Marcos called on her brother’s administration to adopt a more diplomatic approach in dealing with China amid the escalating tensions in the West Philippine Sea.

Senator Marcos urged President Marcos  to resume negotiations with China and to disregard what she referred to as the United States’ “warmongering.”

In another development, National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano and US counterpart Jake Sullivan discussed “the recent spate of illegal, coercive, aggressive, and deceptive actions by the China Coast Guard and the Chinese Maritime Militia” in the West Philippine Sea.

Año and Sullivan also tackled the preparations for the upcoming US-Japan-Philippines trilateral leaders summit at the White House in Washington DC next week and aired hope for its success.

 The President’s Executive Order No. 57 which was made public by Executive Secretary Lucas P. Bersamin on March 25 highlighted the need to boost

maritime security and maritime domain awareness due to “serious challenges that threaten the country’s territorial integrity and the peaceful existence of Filipinos.”

“Despite efforts to promote stability and security in our maritime domain, the Philippines continues to confront a range of serious challenges that threaten not only the country’s territorial integrity but also the peaceful existence of Filipinos, including their fundamental right to live in peace and freedom, free from fear of violence and threat,” Marcos said in a statement.

“Strengthening the country’s maritime security and domain awareness is imperative to comprehensively tackle the crosscutting issues that impact the nation’s national security, sovereignty, sovereign rights, and maritime jurisdiction over its extensive maritime zones,” he added.

Under the executive order, the National Maritime Council (NMC) — formerly the National Coast Watch Council (NCWC) — was designated to formulate policies and strategies for the country’s maritime security and domain awareness framework, among other functions.
Marcos also instructed NMC to craft and issue guidelines for implementing EO No. 57, which will take effect immediately upon its publication in the Official Gazette or a newspaper of general circulation.

NMC will consist of heads of the following government agencies: the Department of National Defense, National Security Adviser, Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and Department of Foreign Affairs.

The council also includes secretaries of the Department of Finance, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Department of Transportation, the Solicitor General, and the Director General of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency.

Also attached to the NMC is the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS), which was created through EO 94 (s. 2016) “to orchestrate, synchronize and operationalize the employment of the capabilities of different agencies for a unified actions in the WPS.”

Marcos said he has met with the country’s security and defense officials in the past few days following the water cannon attack of China Coast Guard (CCG) and Chinese Maritime Militia on a Philippine supply vessel in Ayungin Shoal that left three crew members injured.

The President also disclosed that he has been in “constant communication” with representatives of the country’s allies, partners, and friends in the international community.

“They have offered to help us on what the Philippines requires to protect and secure our Sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction while ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific,” Marcos said.

“I have given them our requirements and we have been assured that they will be addressed,” he added.

Ironically, China blamed the Philippines for raising tensions in the hotly contested waterway, which Beijing claims almost entirely, triggering protests from the Philippine government and foreign media covering the confrontations in the sea.

In a statement, foreign correspondents in Manila belonging to the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) rejected a claim made by China that the Philippines had journalists manipulate videos taken during resupply missions in the South China Sea to make it look like a “victim.”

The FOCAP, whose members include journalists from international media agencies like Reuters, CNN, AP, AP, EFE and others, “takes deep offence at the insinuation that the press is a ‘troublemaker’ and in cahoots with the government to forward a political agenda,” said in a statement.

The statement was in response to a post by China’s Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hua Chunying, on platform X on March 26.

FOCAP said it “strongly rejects and condemns the false, baseless claims” of Hua and the Chinese Embassy in Manila, which reposted the comments on platform X.

Foreign and local journalists have joined and covered the Philippine Navy and Philippine Coast Guard resupply missions in the disputed waters.

In the White House summit, Japan and the United States are set to strengthen their security partnership with Britain, Australia and the Philippines to counter China’s assertive military posture, Kyodo News reported, quoting government sources.

Under the closer security ties, the five countries will increase joint drills in the Indo-Pacific region and promote cooperation on defensive technologies, the sources said.

The new partnership is expected to be agreed upon at a meeting of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and US President Joe Biden during an April 10 summit in Washington. It will be included in a joint statement to be issued after the summit.