MANILA, Philippines — While China called out the United States for “meddling” in the South China Sea maritime dispute, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the presence of the Western power in the region “benefits” the Philippines.
“It benefits the Philippine interests that we have a US presence in the region, I’ve said that very clearly. It is the same as the presence of Great Britain of the European coast in the old days of the balance of power,” Locsin said in an interview over ABS-CBN News Channel on Wednesday.
“Again, we have a balance of power situation. Yes, we need the US presence in Asia,” he added.
According to Locsin, this is why he opposed suggestions that foreign powers be kept out of discussions on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.
“The one request is let’s keep out foreign powers and I said: ‘No.’ That completely undermines the very independence of the countries who are now going to agree to a Code of Conduct, so we don’t unnecessarily hurt each other,” the foreign affairs chief said.
“But sometimes it may be necessary to hurt each other. As a diplomat, I can tell you I don’t foreclose any means to protect the sovereignty and freedom of my country and that includes the worst,” he added.
China and countries that have conflicting territorial claims over the South China Sea have been negotiating for a Code of Conduct, an accord that seeks to prevent the escalation of tensions in the disputed waterway.
“We were supposed to have come out in two years. So, the first text was approved. Remember I can’t dictate this because the other Southeast Asian nations have their own objections and their own accommodations with China, let me tell you that,” Locsin went on.
“They accommodate China tremendously. As you know, we won the Arbitral Award all by our lonesome. We had no support and there was no indication of any support from Southeast Asia. So, we just proceed that way and because of that,” he added.
Nevertheless, Manila’s top diplomat said there would “never be an accommodation that sets aside the arbitral award.”
Further, the foreign affairs secretary underscored the country’s need for US military support.
“We need them because our whole defense posture depends on the Mutual Defense Treaty,” he said.
“Until something happens—as I said before—until something happens, that is beyond incursion that, in fact, is an attack on say, a Philippine vessel—a naval vessel— in which case, then I call up Washington, DC,” he added.
China has been pushing for its expansive claims in the South China Sea, refusing to recognize the 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) that invalidated its ambitious nine-dash line that claims virtually the entire body of water.
According to the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, China’s nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea has no basis.
Economic help from China
Locsin said that while he affirms the “necessity” of the US military in the region, he stressed that economic opportunities offered by China will not be turned away.
“I will not turn against the economic opportunities offered by China. Opportunities that, in fact, offer the most prospect for mutual progress. That’s a fact. It’s a growing economy, it’s a new economy like the US economy, by the way,” he said. [ac]