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Philippines says South China Sea concerns go beyond US-China rivalry

Manila said its protests over Beijing’s aggressive activities in its portion of the South China Sea are not meant to pick sides in the rising United States-China tension.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo Jr. said the country’s “concerns” over recent incidents in the West Philippine Sea have a “decidedly human element to them” that have to be acted on.

“Our concerns are mainly from the national standpoint and should not be viewed through the prism of the US-China rivalry,” Manalo said in a March 6 speech, a transcript of which was released Friday.

The statement came as more than two dozen diplomatic protests have been lodged against China under the Marcos Jr. administration. The gestures raised alarm over Chinese vessels encroaching on Philippine waters and instances of harassment of Filipinos in the West Philippine Sea.

Over the past decade, China has built artificial islands and positioned militarily in waters on reefs and shoals within the Philippines’ jurisdiction.

Manalo noted that such reclamations pose “long-term economic costs” to important fishing ecosystems and livelihood of coastal communities in the Philippines. Scientists have warned that Chinese actions at sea have endangered seven natural world heritage areas so far.

While the Philippines’ protests and policies against China concerning international maritime law and at-sea contests, Manalo said these are “not the sum total” of the two countries’ relations.

Similarly, its decision with the U.S. to add locations where American troops can have a rotational presence is meant to implement the existing Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement, or EDCA, more fully despite China’s accusations that the deal intends to sow discord.

“[EDCA] is a key pillar of the Philippine-US alliance, which supports combined training, exercises, and interoperability between our forces. The full implementation of the EDCA will make our alliance more resilient, and will accelerate modernization of our joint military capabilities,” Manalo said.