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U.S., MARCOS AIR WARNING ON GROWING CHINA THREAT; PHL avoiding war, seeks peace as White House trilateral summit set

By ALFRED GABOT and CLAIRE MORALES TRUE

Editor in Chief and Managing Editor

MANILA/WASHINGTON – As Chinese warships, Coast Guard and militia vessels continue to swarm in the West Philippine Sea following China leader Xi Jinping prepping up its military for “wider conflict” after dangerous maneuvers with Philippine vessels resulting in collision, the United States, Japan and the Philippines strengthened further their alliances expected to be boosted by trilateral summit in the White House on April 11 hosted by US President Joe Biden.

In preparation for the White House summit, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken flew to Manila and met President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and other officials, including US Ambassador MaryKay Clarkson, as he renewed assurances of an “ironclad” support to the Philippines in case of an armed conflict in the disputed South China Sea waters in keeping with the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between US and the Philippines.

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Marcos, for his part, noted the widening dispute and growing threat amid China’s aggressive activities in the West Philippine Sea, but still shrugged off the Beijing threat, saying he wants peace by respecting freedom of navigation not only for the Philippines , the US and China but the rest of the world.

 Interviewed by Bloomberg Television in Malacanang, Marcos said the threat to his nation from China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea is growing but maintained that his government’s efforts to assert sovereignty over disputed areas are not meant to start a conflict by “poking the bear.”

“We are trying to keep things on an even keel,” Marcos told Bloomberg Television’s Haslinda Amin, the challengeis that “since the threat has grown, we must do more to defend our territory.”

In Manila, Blinken criticized China’s “provocative actions” in the South China Sea as he reaffirmed the US security commitment to the Philippines.

Blinken said the US is committed to and focused on dealing with the pressing issues in the Indo-Pacific, adding that its engagement with the Philippines is crucial to work on a number of challenges.

He also emphasized that the alliance between the US and the Philippines is “more than rock solid.”

“It’s absolute a priority of [US] President [Joe] Biden, that’s why he asked me to leave [to] visit [here],” Blinken said. “Our relationship, I would say is hyperdrive. That is so true, we see it across every domain.”

Blinken also expressed confidence that Marcos’ visit to the US on April 11 for a summit with Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will open an opportunity for a new cooperation with the Philippines and Japan.

The White House announced earlier that Marcos, Biden, and Kishida would hold a trilateral leaders’ summit in the US on April 11 to discuss a broad range of areas, including economic and security cooperation.

“I think that will arise new cooperation. It’s also incredibly promising but it’s building on the very strong foundation of our countries where we have the same priorities, whether it’s on economic development, whether its with climate change, with food security, of course, upholding international law,” he said.

Blinken said the US and other nations have rallied to support the Philippines after Chinese vessels have blocked, closely shadowed and used water cannons on Philippine vessels in the disputed waterway. He also said the world has seen China’s actions in the South China Sea as a violation of international law.

“We have a shared concern about the PRC’s actions that threaten our common vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, including in the South China Sea,” Blinken said with the Philippines’ Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo.

Marcos Jr. expressed optimism that the actions taken by the Philippines and the United States (US) will be successful in lowering the tension in the Indo-Pacific region as he thanked Blinken for visiting Manila despite his busy schedule.

“I hope that all these efforts we are making are making some success because it is of great importance to us too, as you well know. We have spoken about this before,” Marcos added

 A Chinese warship was spotted in the vicinity of the Pag-asa Island on Tuesday while other Chinese vessels kept crowding around Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal and other parts of the West Philippine Sea (WPS), according to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Col. Francel Margareth Padilla, the AFP spokesperson, told a press briefing that as of March 19, six China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels and eight Chinese maritime militia ships remained in the waters of Panatag, also known as Bajo de Masinloc.

The shoal lies within Manila’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ), some 220 km west of Zambales province.

Aside from Panatag, Padilla said one People’s Liberation Army Navy vessel, a CCG ship, and six Chinese fishing vessels were sighted near Pag-asa Island, one of the nine features occupied by the Philippines in the Kalayaan Island Group, or the Spratly chain.

According to Padilla, one CCG ship and six Chinese fishing vessels were also spotted in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, a low-elevation feature to which Manila stakes its claim through the grounded World War II-era ship BRP Sierra Madre, which serves as a military outpost in those waters.

Another Chinese fishing vessel was spotted near Lawak Island, one of the Philippine-occupied islands in the West Philippine Sea.

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