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Lawmaker says Philippines provoked China

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By Kenneth Christiane L. Basilio

WAR GAMES with Washington and other western allies in the South China Sea might have provoked Chinese aggression at sea, a lawmaker said on Monday.

The Philippines should uphold its sovereignty and territorial integrity independent of the United States, Party-list Rep. France L. Castro said in a statement.

“It seems that in recent months, the Philippine government has deliberately provoked China through Navy resupply missions, coast guard activities, joint military exercises with Western countries and other overtly pro-US acts,” she added.

Manila and Beijing have been involved in an escalating sea row where China has fired water cannons to block missions to deliver food and other supplies to a handful of Filipino soldiers at Second Thomas Shoal.

The Philippine grounded a World War II-era ship there in 1999 to assert its sea claim.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, through which about $3 trillion worth of trade passes yearly.

The Chinese Coast Guard last week foiled a routine rotation and resupply operation of the Philippine Navy to the grounded ship BRP Sierra Madre.

The Philippine military said bolo-wielding Chinese coast guard and militia men threatened Filipino soldiers at the shoal.

“We condemn in the strongest terms China’s shameless lies and continued bullying in our own maritime territories,” Ms. Castro said. “However, we must also be wary of the US government’s intentions and their potential to provoke China, leading to a dangerous escalation.”

Georgi Engelbrecht, a senior analyst at nongovernment Crisis Group, called Ms. Castro’s claims “far-fetched.”

“To argue that there is a deliberate provocation is a bit far-fetched,” he said in an X message to BusinessWorld. “From the Philippine side, joint exercises and training have value in their own right, serving as possible deterrence.”

Deepening defense ties with western allies are minor considerations for China’s aggression, said Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a senior research fellow at the Ateneo de Manila University Policy Center.

“A lot can be said about Beijing’s aggression in the South China Sea but for me it can be distilled down to two points — the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party firmly believe in their expansive claim and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s vision of a unified China and that they have the naval power to apply this firm belief,” he said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

“Their main aim is to assert ownership over the entire South China Sea regardless of whoever opposes them,” he added.

Manila’s joint military exercises present challenges to China’s security interests in the waterway, said Andy Mok, a senior research fellow at the Beijing-based think tank Center for China and Globalization.

“Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. has expanded military ties with the US, which is seen by China as provocative and destabilizing,” he told BusinessWorld in an X message.

“From a Chinese perspective, the Philippines’ alignment with western powers aims to counter China’s rise, risking greater conflict,” he added.

The Philippines should reduce its military dependence on the US and pursue “peaceful negotiations” for mutual economic development, he added.

The AFP should look at building marine defense capability to help the country achieve self-reliance in safeguarding national territory and sovereignty, Mr. Yusingco said.

The Philippines should also think of “creative strategies” to maintain presence in contested maritime features and come up with “nontraditional ways” of conducting resupply missions, Mr. Engelbrecht said.

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