How China can ‘earn trust of Filipino people’: New Philippine defence chief

Newly appointed Defence Secretary Gibo Teodoro becomes a “groufie” target during a welcoming ceremony at Camp Aguinaldo on June 7, 2023. Teodoro held the same post during the Arroyo administration. — PDI

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network): China should abide by international law to earn the trust of Filipinos, Defence Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said on Thursday (June 8), following disconnects between Beijing’s words and its actions on maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

“As a stronger country, it has a bigger obligation to be magnanimous and show trust and to earn the trust of the Filipino people by conforming its activities to recognize norms of international law,” Teodoro said at a briefing in Malacanang.

“We are talking about the arbitral award. It has already been stated by our two past presidents that our rights and our territory are defined by Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and it has been stated too that this cannot be frittered away or bargained away by passages of administration,” he added.

In July 2016, the international arbitral tribunal, which was created under Unclos, ruled in favor of the Philippines, which challenged China’s expansive claims to nearly the entire South China, including parts of the 370-km exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.

The tribunal’s ruling, which Beijing refuses to recognise, nullified China’s claims within its so-called nine-dash line, saying it had no historical basis, and upheld the Philippine sovereign rights over its EEZ.

The defence chief’s remarks were in reaction to the question raised by Commodore Jay Tarriela of the Philippine Coast Guard during a security dialogue in Singapore over the weekend.

Tarriela pointed out the “apparent disconnect” between China’s talks of holding dialogues and being confrontational in its actions.

According to Teodoro, China has to be transparent, saying that this is “the best way to build trust.”

He said he would be pushing for “deconfliction” in the South China Sea to ease the longstanding maritime disputes in the strategic waterway.

“If we can talk, then let’s talk,” he said. But he remained firm that the Philippines would not bargain away its territory on any matter.

He pointed out that the country’s decision to modernize its military capabilities were “for purely defensive purposes and deterrent purposes.”

“Establishing our credible deterrence, establishing our ability to defend ourselves is our own business. If we partner with anyone, that should not be the concern of others,” he said.

In recent statements, Chinese officials, including China’s ambassador to the Philippines, criticised American foreign policy toward Beijing and the China-Taiwan conflict and Manila’s closer, especially military, ties with Washington under President Marcos than during the Duterte administration.

The Philippines and the United States have a 72-year-old Mutual Defence Treaty. But Teodoro, who was appointed by Marcos on Monday to serve again as defence chief, admitted that China remained a “big market” for the Philippines, and the United States realises that, too.

“Relations between two countries are not monodimensional; there are other relationships that we need to build up,” he said.

On Wednesday, Marcos told Philippine ambassadors at a meeting in Malacanang to look for nontraditional partners to boost the country’s trade, security, and defence requirements.

“We are constantly now — after all the changes that have been imposed upon us, like the pandemic economy and the world situation — looking for what we sometimes referred to as nontraditional partners in trades, in any kind, in security and defence issues.

All these things, we are always looking for partners,” the President said. But the President stressed that Philippines would follow an “independent” foreign policy under his administration and Manila would not lean toward any of the world powers.

“We do not subscribe to any notion of a bipolar world,” he said. “We only side, of course, to the Philippines, not to the US, not to Beijing, not to Moscow. That’s very much being independent in what we do.”

In response to this, Teodoro said the Philippines has partnered with Israel, Korea and Sweden for defense cooperation.

“I think the marching order is to look for a proper fit—whatever serves our needs and whatever will jibe with our national security, territorial integrity and interoperability with our present complement,” he said.

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Philippines , Teodoro , defence , China


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