Expert hopes China will rethink actions in West PH Sea amid stronger PH-US ties

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 9) A maritime law expert is hopeful that China will seriously rethink its actions in the West Philippine Sea following the recent pronouncements of the United States and the Philippines to forge stronger security ties.

"Magiging concerned ang China kasi makikita nila na hindi lang tayo maliit na bansa kundi bansang may malalaking kaibigan," said Jay Batongbacal, Director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, in a public briefing.

[Translation: China will become more concerned because they will now look at the Philippines not just a small country but a country with powerful allies and friends]

Last week, United States President Joe Biden reaffirmed to President Bongbong Marcos Washinton's "ironclad alliance commitments to the Philippines."

Biden went on by saying that "an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea, would invoke US mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty."

Both the Philippines and the US also released a bilateral defense guideline to further define the security partnership between Manila and Washington.

"We will always have your back, in the South China Sea or elsewhere in the region," US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Marcos during the latter's visit to Pentagon.

"Let me say once again that our mutual defense treaty applies to armed attacks on our armed forces, Coast Guard vessels, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific, including anywhere in the South China Sea," added Austin.

For Batongbacal, these statements would hopefully be enough for China to always reconsider its actions in the West Philippine Sea.

"Tahimik tayo for last few years pero kailangan na nila seryosohin tayo pagdating sa usapin sa West Philippine Sea…Sigurado patuloy nila tayong susubukan pero dahil malakas na ang mensahe na meron tayong kaibigan, magbabago na sila ng attitude towards sa atin," added Batongbacal.

[Translation: We have been quiet in the last few years but now they will have to take us seriously on issues over the West Philippine Sea. I am sure that they will continue to challenge us but since the message is clear now that we have a strong ally, Beijing's attitude towards us might change]

'Meddling' in South China Sea

The Chinese Foreign Ministry was quick to point out that while countries are allowed to do bilateral agreements, it should not be at the expense of other countries.

China adds it will continue to oppose 'meddling' in the South China Sea issue especially for countries outside of the region.

"With the concerted efforts of regional countries, the situation in the South China Sea has maintained overall stability. The US-Philippines defense guidelines is a bilateral arrangement. China firmly opposes any country's move to meddle in the South China Sea issue to harm China's territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests by citing the guidelines," said Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning.

"I would like to stress that the South China Sea is the shared home for countries in the region, not a hunting ground for forces outside the region. When regional countries are committed to mutual trust, solidarity, cooperation and properly handling differences, they have in their hand the key to peace and stability in the South China Sea," the Chinese official added.