DFA: Chinese harassment in West PH Sea a ‘daily’ occurrence

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 20) — Beijing’s aggressive actions against Manila continues on a “daily” basis in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), the Philippines’ top diplomat said, as he called on the international community to help affirm the need for a rules-based order.

“On a day-to-day basis, there are still many events occurring in the South China Sea, and there are daily incidents — at least as far as we see it — of cases of harassment or land reclamation, which in many cases have been depriving the Philippines of the use of our exclusive economic zone (EEZ),” Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said during the Munich Security Conference in Germany last Saturday.

Just recently, a Chinese vessel pointed a military-grade laser at a Philippine Coast Guard ship near Ayungin Shoal, temporarily blinding crew members and disrupting its resupply mission.

Filipino fishermen have also reported being unable to fish freely due to the continued presence of Chinese forces in Philippine waters.

During the conference, Manalo cited the 2016 arbitral ruling in The Hague, which upheld the Philippines' sovereign rights and jurisdiction in its EEZ and stated that Beijing’s “nine-dash line” claim in the South China Sea had no legal basis.

“We have held to this position consistently and we will continue to do so,” the Foreign Affairs chief said.

He also urged other nations to help ensure that actions by China and other nations in the contested area adhere to international rules.

The United Nations, he added, could help amplify awareness on the issue by holding dialogues and debates, such as on upholding the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“I think discussions like that would help create greater awareness of the importance of UNCLOS and also of maintaining a rules-based order so that any disputes or conflicts are settled through the rule of law and through peaceful means,” Manalo said.

Meanwhile, the official clarified that while the Philippines will continue to defend its territory, it has agreed with China that the sea dispute is “not going to be the sum total” of their bilateral relationship.

“It’s a very complex situation,” Manalo said. “The Philippines…and other countries in the region have very strong links with China in the economic and cultural front, so that creates greater, more complexity to the situation.”

In January, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said he expected tensions in the WPS to abate, as he and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to resolve disputes in a diplomatic manner and to improve bilateral communication.

Following the laser incident near Ayungin Shoal, however, Marcos raised concern over the "increasing frequency and intensity” of China's actions against the Philippines, saying such conduct was not what the two nations agreed upon.

Beijing, for its part, denied Manila’s accusation, claiming it merely used a hand-held laser speed detector and greenlight pointer which supposedly does not inflict damage.

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