A chilling warning was made by the Philippines’ former foreign affairs chief Albert del Rosario this week, as he said the country should be vigilant of both the threat of China and the coronavirus pandemic. It comes after China announced the establishment of new districts in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, as well as Beijing’s sinking of a Vietnamese boat. Mr Rosario said in a statement: “These recent events in the South China Sea remind us Filipinos to be eternally vigilant in the defence of our country’s territory and sovereign rights even as we confront a very grave threat as COVID-19.
“As we struggle against a pandemic that poses a real threat to our lives, we must not also risk losing our national patrimony upheld by international law and meant for present and future generations of Filipinos.”
He also argued that China and its President Xi Jinping have “been relentless in exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic”.
Accusing China of continuing its illegal activity in the South China Sea, Mr Rosario called on his country’s government to “protest” against Beijing’s forces.
He said: “We therefore respectfully urge our government to protest this recent action of China, as it rightly did over the sinking of the Vietnamese fishing boat on April 8, 2020.
“In these trying times, we also respectfully urge the Chinese leadership to uphold global unity and mutual trust, and not to engage in needless provocations that may only be seen as abusive and may worsen the situation currently being confronted by the world.”
After a Vietnamese fishing boat was downed by China earlier this month, the Filipino government criticised the move claiming that given the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, unity was required.
A statement from Manila said: “COVID-19 is a very real threat that demands unity and mutual trust. In the face of it, neither fish nor fictional historical claims are worth the fuse that’s lit by such incidents.”
The South China Sea is host to lucrative shipping lanes and trading ports, provoking President Xi Jinping to enforce a controversial Nine-Dash Line demarcation of what China deems to be its territory.
The demarcation enforces a claim over all of the island clusters in the region and 90 percent of the South China Sea as a whole, but is deemed illegal by UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea).
This has angered smaller nations in the region such as Vietnam and the Philippines, both of whom are reeling at China’s militarisation of the Spratly Islands – a key archipelago in the region that both countries claim sovereignty over.
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The Spratly Islands form the epicentre of the complex disputes, as China occupies seven features, and has heavily militarised its portion of the archipelago.
In 2016, the US reached an agreement with the Philippines to build five military installations located throughout the country.
The base which infuriated Beijing more than any other was the Antonio Bautista Air Base on western Palawan island, which faces the hotly disputed Spratly islands directly.
But in February, the Philippines announced plans to back out of its defence agreement with Washington.
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