With the Philippines being a “frontline” state in the South China Sea, it is “unavoidable” to speak about tensions in the disputed waters, the Southeast Asian nation’s president said.
“Whenever these tensions increase, we’re watching as bystanders and if something goes wrong here, we are going to suffer,” President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. told World Economic Forum President Borge Brende during an ongoing annual summit in Davos.
“It keeps you up at night, it keeps you up in the day, it keeps you up most of the time,” Marcos said, referring to tensions in the disputed South China Sea.
The mineral-rich warm waters of the South China Sea have long been the subject of contention between China and some regional countries, with the US siding with those who oppose China’s claims.
Washington has quite often sailed its warships and flown its fighter jets over the warm waters of the South China Sea under the so-called freedom of navigation which many a time Beijing said allegedly violated its territorial integrity.
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam all have coastlines on the South China Sea. Taiwan, which Beijing claims is a part of China, is also a claimant.
The “Declaration on the Conduct” is an agreement on the South China Sea signed by ASEAN and China in Nov. 2002, marking China’s first acceptance of a multilateral agreement on the issue.
China’s claims are based on its "nine-dash line," which are purple dashes on official Chinese maps that represent Beijing's historical claims to the South China Sea.
However, the Philippines won a case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016 that invalidated China's South China Sea expansion claims.
“It’s very dynamic, it’s constantly in flux, so you have to pay attention to it and you are at least aware of the present situation so you’re able to respond properly,” Marcos told the WEF panel on Wednesday.
Committing to a “peaceful” foreign policy guided by “very, very closely by national interest,” Marcos said he discussed the South China Sea tensions with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping early this month in Beijing.
“There’s no way to avoid it,” he stressed, adding: “We described it in diplomatic language as one part of our relationship but it is an important and unavoidable issue. We cannot just sweep it under the rug and pretend it’s not happening.”
“It is unavoidable to speak about that. I would not be doing my job if I did not bring up these issues with President Xi when I had the opportunity,” said Marcos, who paid his first state visit to China early this month.
Manila had last month directed its soldiers to "strengthen" their presence in the contested South China Sea following reports of alleged new construction activities by China.
“Any encroachment in the West Philippines Sea or reclamation on the features therein is a threat to the security of Pag-asa Island, which is a part of Philippine sovereign territory,” the Philippines Department of Defense had said in a statement.
Beijing had rejected the claims of any fresh activities in the region.