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EDITORIAL: Condemnation amid tensions

The recent incidents in the West Philippine Sea involving aggressive actions by China against Philippine vessels have once again heightened tensions in the disputed region.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesperson, Teresita Daza, highlighted a concerning ‘dissonance’ between China’s statements and its actions in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian has been summoned for the fourth time in 2023, following a series of “aggression and provocations” against Philippine vessels.

The latest confrontations occurred on December 9 and December 10 when Chinese Coast Guard ships harassed Philippine vessels on missions to Bajo de Masinloc and Ayungin Shoal.

The Philippines utilized the maritime communications mechanism and filed diplomatic protests with the Chinese Embassy in Beijing. The summoning of Ambassador Huang signifies the Philippine government’s commitment to addressing these repeated transgressions.

Ayungin Shoal and Bajo de Masinloc, both within the Philippine EEZ, witnessed an alarming increase in Chinese maritime forces during a resupply mission on December 10.

The presence of over 44 vessels, including 36 from the Chinese Maritime Militia and 8 from the China Coast Guard, marked a significant escalation. The Philippines reported damage to a resupply vessel and a Philippine Coast Guard vessel during the confrontations.

Despite rising tensions, the DFA spokesperson urged caution regarding calls to declare Ambassador Huang persona non grata. Daza emphasized the ambassador’s role in building bridges and enhancing relations, expressing hope that diplomatic channels would prevail.

The actions of China, claiming almost the entire South China Sea despite a 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling invalidating this claim, continue to strain relations with neighboring countries.

The National Security Council and Armed Forces of the Philippines have responded with concern, labelling China’s actions as a “serious escalation.”

As the Philippines contemplates adjustments to its strategy in the West Philippine Sea, pending the approval of President Marcos Jr., the international community watches closely.

The incidents serve as a stark reminder of the ongoing challenges in the region, underscoring the need for diplomatic solutions to prevent further escalation and safeguard regional stability.

The recent incidents in the West Philippine Sea demand urgent attention and decisive diplomatic action. The repeated summoning of the Chinese Ambassador, escalating confrontations, and the ominous increase in maritime forces underscore the gravity of the situation. The international community must condemn such aggressive actions that threaten stability in the region.

As the Philippines contemplates adjustments to its strategy, it is crucial for the Philippine president to consider the broader implications of these events. The call for Ambassador Huang Xilian to be persona non grata should be weighed carefully, balancing the imperative to address transgressions with the ambassador’s role in fostering relations.

The Philippines, backed by international law, asserts its rights to its exclusive economic zone, emphasizing the need for respect and adherence to established norms. The Christmas convoy’s aborted mission and the damage sustained by Philippine vessels reflect not only a violation of sovereignty but also a perilous escalation.

The global community, cognizant of the South China Sea’s strategic importance, must actively engage in diplomatic initiatives to de-escalate tensions and promote peaceful resolutions. The principles of international law, as upheld by the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling, must guide these efforts.

In navigating these turbulent waters, building bridges rather than straining relations should be the priority. The role of ambassadors, including Ambassador Huang, must align with fostering dialogue and cooperation.

The world watches as the West Philippine Sea remains a crucible for geopolitical tensions, underscoring the imperative for collaborative, diplomatic solutions to ensure lasting stability in the region.

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