China warns Philippines against South China Sea ‘miscalculation’

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has told the Philippines to address through dialogue serious difficulties in their relations over the South China Sea, warning that any miscalculation would prompt Beijing to defend itself and “respond resolutely”.

Beijing and Manila have traded sharp accusations in recent months over a succession of run-ins in the South China Sea.

The Philippines has accused China’s coastguard of intentionally colliding with its vessels and using water cannons and a military-grade laser against them, while China has accused the Philippines of trespassing in its territory.

The souring of ties this year coincides with Manila’s moves to boost military ties with Japan and the United States, its former colonial power and defence ally of seven decades.

“China-Philippines relations are at a crossroads,” Wang told his Philippine counterpart Enrique Manalo in a call on Wednesday, according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement.

“The top priority is to properly handle and control the current maritime situation.”

If the Philippines misjudges or colludes with “ill-intentioned” external forces, China would defend its rights and respond resolutely, Wang was quoted saying, without elaborating. It was not immediately clear who initiated the phone call.

His remarks could intensify a dispute that has simmered for years, with the Philippines pushing back at what it sees as a Chinese campaign to prevent it from accessing fossil fuel and fisheries resources in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

An escalation towards an armed confrontation, while unlikely, would be a significant raising of the stakes, with the United States bound by a 1951 treaty to defend the Philippines should it come under attack, including in the South China Sea.

Manalo said in a statement that he had a frank and candid exchange with Wang, adding both “noted the importance of dialogue”.

SWEEPING CLAIM

China claims almost the entire South China Sea via a so-called nine dash line that overlaps with the EEZs of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and Indonesia.

An international arbitration tribunal in 2016 invalidated China’s claim in a ruling on a case brought by the Philippines, which Beijing did not recognise.

China has instead doubled down, maintaining a heavy coastguard presence throughout the South China Sea, including around militarised manmade islands it built upon reefs in disputed waters, some with missile systems.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr has strengthened ties with the United States, including expanding U.S. access to his military bases while seeking assurances on the extent to which Washington will defend his country from attack – moves that have irked China and emboldened Manila’s defence top brass.

The Philippine defence minister on Wednesday rebuked China and said “no country in the world” supports its maritime claim. The United States and other western powers have condemned China’s coastguard for confronting and blocking Philippine vessels in Manila’s EEZ.

The Philippines on Thursday said its military chief and Japan’s top general held talks about “pressing regional security issues”, during which they stressed the importance of alliance-building to counter aggression, including in the South China Sea.

“The meeting demonstrates the (Philippine military’s) commitment to strengthening its partnership with like-minded nations and drawing support for the advancement of a rules-based international order and a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” a statement from the Philippine military said.

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