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Philippine president's aide warns of 'unwanted hostilities' over Chinese boats

Global Apr 05, 2021 14:50
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© Reuters.

MANILA, April 5 (Reuters) - Territorial "incursions" by
hundreds of Chinese vessels in the South China Sea are straining
ties between Manila and Beijing, and could lead to "unwanted
hostilities", an aide to President Rodrigo Duterte's said on
Monday.
Salvador Panelo, the presidential legal counsel, said the
boats' prolonged presence in the Philippines' Exclusive Economic
Zone (EEZ) was an unwelcome stain on relations and "may trigger
unwanted hostilities that both countries would rather not
pursue."
"We can negotiate on matters of mutual concern and benefit,
but make no mistake about it - our sovereignty is
non-negotiable," Panelo said in a statement.
Though Philippine diplomats and top generals have strongly
criticised China lately, Panelo's remarks are the toughest to
come from the office of Duterte, who has shown reluctance to
confront China since making surprise overtures towards Beijing
when he became president.
His refusal to press China to abide by a landmark 2016
arbitral ruling that went in Manila's favour in a case filed by
a previous administration has frustrated nationalists, who say
Duterte was seduced by promises of Chinese loans and investment,
little of which materialised.
Duterte has previously said challenging China risked
starting a war.
The Philippines last month filed a diplomatic protest about
a "swarming and threatening" presence of 220 Chinese vessels
believed to be manned by militias at Whitsun Reef, a stance
backed by the United States.
The ships have since spread to other areas of the
Philippines' EEZ. Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, China and Vietnam also have
competing claims for islands and features in the area.
Panelo said the Philippines would not be blinded by China's
humanitarian gestures amid violations of international law and
its sovereign rights, referring to COVID-19 vaccines donated by
China.
Its embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a
request for comment. China says the boats were sheltering from
rough seas and had no militia aboard. Opposition senator Risa Hontiveros demanded "hard-headed"
Chinese leave the Philippines EEZ immediately.
"We are facing a pandemic and then China is causing
trouble," she said on Monday.

Philippine president's aide warns of 'unwanted hostilities' over Chinese boats
 

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