The Chinese ambassador to the Philippines indicated that the safety and welfare of tens of thousands of Filipinos working in Taiwan might be jeopardized if Manila does not oppose the independence of the island nation that Beijing claims to be a part of China.
The statement made by Ambassador Huang Xilian during a forum on Friday organized by the Association for Philippine-China Understanding is part of China’s warnings that the Philippines would be embroiled in the China-Taiwan conflict by letting US forces use its military bases, particularly those close to Taiwan.
“The Philippines is advised to unequivocally oppose ‘Taiwan independence’ rather than stoking the fire by offering the US access to the military bases near the Taiwan Strait if you care genuinely about the 150,000 (overseas Filipino workers, or OFWs),” Huang said.
The United States military now has access to nine Philippine military bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) between Manila and Washington. The United States was recently given access to two bases in Cagayan and another in Isabela, two of the country’s northernmost provinces close to Taiwan.
“Facts speak louder than words,” Huang said. “Obviously, the US intends to take advantage of the new Edca sites to interfere in the situation across the Taiwan Strait to serve its geopolitical goals, and advance its anti-China agenda at the expense of peace and development of the Philippines and the region at large.”
“Some tried to find excuses for the new Edca sites by citing the safety of the 150,000 OFWs in Taiwan, while China is the last country that wishes to see conflict over the Strait because people on both sides are Chinese,” Huang said.
“But we will not renounce the use of force, and we reserve the option of taking all necessary measures. This is to guard against external interference and all separatist activities,” he added.
There were no immediate comments from Malacañang, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and the US Embassy in Manila to Huang’s statement.
The Chinese envoy said the “Taiwan question is entirely China’s internal affair” similar to the “Mindanao issue,” a reference to the former Muslim separatist movement in the southern Philippines.
“You will never allow any third party to meddle with resolving rebel issues in Mindanao,” Huang said.
The ambassador was mistaken. In fact, both the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippine government had sought the help of Malaysia, Indonesia, and several other countries to resolve the decadeslong rebellion, which resulted in a peace deal in 2014 and the creation of a new Muslim autonomous region.
In a statement to the Inquirer, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said Huang’s comparison of the Philippines to China’s situation was misplaced and baseless, and that Mindanao was “totally different” from Taiwan.
“Muslim Mindanao (Bangsamoro Region) is a region in the Philippines, an enhanced autonomous one. Taiwan has been a republic, an independent country, since 1949, when the Kuomintang was forced to leave China by the Communists. It is a free and democratic country,” he said.
The Edca sites are not meant to be an interference in the Taiwan issue, he added.
“It is not about conflict against China but a deterrence against China’s continuous illegal encroachments and violations of the sovereign rights of the Philippines over our 200-mile exclusive economic zone, the West Philippine Sea,” Rodriguez said.
He noted that China refused to follow international maritime law and the 2016 international arbitral ruling, which nullified China’s nine-dash-line claim over nearly the entire South China Sea.
4 new Edca bases
The four new Edca bases, including the three in Cagayan Valley, are intended “to deter China and protect the Philippines” under the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty “against China’s illegal intrusions” into the West Philippine Sea, Rodriguez said.
Sen. JV Ejercito blasted Huang for making “threats” and practically holding Filipino migrant workers in Taiwan hostage.
“Why does the Chinese government always make threats on a supposed ‘friend’ just because we are establishing alliances with other right-thinking nations?” Ejercito told the Inquirer.
He pointed out that China had been “consistently encroaching and have, in fact, taken control of our territorial waters, disrespecting our sovereignty.”
‘Difficult to trust’
Ejercito said it would be “useless” for the DFA to ask Huang to clarify his statement if the hundreds of diplomatic protests against Chinese incursions in Philippine waters had been “falling on deaf ears.”
“One thing for sure: It’s difficult to trust the Chinese government,” Ejercito said.
In early August last year, Huang earned the ire of two other senators when he “reminded” Manila to adhere to its “one-China policy” following rumors that then US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi might fly to Taiwan from the Philippines.
Huang said that “there is only one China in the world” and that the self-ruled island “is an inalienable part of China’s territory.”
“It is our hope that the Philippine side will strictly abide by the One China principle and handle all Taiwan-related issues with prudence to ensure sound and steady development of China-Philippines relations,” he said.
That statement did not sit well with Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, who said Philippine foreign policy was solely determined by Filipinos, “reminder or no reminder” from Beijing.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the Philippines was a sovereign state with an independent foreign policy.
Ignores int’l law
“In fact, (Huang) shouldn’t pontificate on such policies, especially considering that his country stubbornly and steadfastly refuses to recognize a decision rendered by an international arbitral court, and ignores and flouts international law in the West Philippine Sea when it suits (Beijing’s) interests,” she said.
While the envoy told Friday’s forum that China was committed to strengthening dialogue with the Philippines to resolve their dispute in the South China Sea, bringing in “external forces” would just complicate matters and put regional peace and security at risk.
‘Learn from history’
“We should learn from history and avoid repeating mistakes,” Huang said.
“To know if increased US military deployment in another country truly helps to protect the host country’s sovereignty and security, one just needs to take a look at the long list of mess left behind by the scourge of American military around the world, the turmoils, divisions, and devastation. Answers will not be difficult to find,” he said.
The Philippines established diplomatic ties with China in 1975, dropping official recognition of Taiwan.
However, the country maintains a de facto embassy, the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (Meco), in Taipei.
According to Meco, there are now 158,410 Filipinos in Taiwan.
—WITH REPORTS FROM JULIE M. AURELIO, MARLON RAMOS AND INQUIRER RESEARCH
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