Defense chief worries over China-US clash
The Philippines’ top defense official expressed worries not about an attack by the Philippines’ rival claimant China in the disputed West Philippine Sea, but by getting caught in the tensions between the superpowers China and the United States.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana expressed this in reaction to Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua’s recent statement saying the Philippines need not worry about a Chinese attack in the disputed seas.
The ambassador, however, said China was worried about “possible attacks from the other side,” as he was being asked for Beijing’s reaction to the United States’ declaration that it would come to the Philippines’ defense in the event of an armed attack in the South China Sea.
“Ambassador Zhao also told me they would never attack us,” Lorenzana said in a text message to reporters on Friday. But “I worry about the two of them coming into blows because we will get involved.”
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, for his part, on Friday slammed the Philippine government for glossing over complaints of harassment allegedly suffered by Filipino fishermen by Chinese vessels patrolling the West Philippine Sea.
In a statement, the senatorial aspirant aired his dismay over the denial by the Armed Forces of the Philippines of the report alleging continued harassment of Filipino fishermen.
“China’s attacks have been ongoing as early as 2017, and I have already exposed China’s unrelenting control over the sandbars in Pag-asa Island. We have sufficient reason to believe that our Filipino fishermen are facing harassment [there],” he said.
On Tuesday, Mayor Roberto del Mundo of Kalayaan town in Palawan province reported that around 50 Chinese vessels were “harassing” local fishermen on Sandy Cay, a sandbar between Pag-asa Island and China’s artificial island on Subi Reef.
“Why is it so difficult for our own government to believe the reports of its own people? They are the ones directly affected by the conflict due to its threat to their livelihood,” Alejano said.
Instead of denying such report, the AFP should welcome receiving such reports, as the Philippines does not have sufficient logistics to patrol its territorial waters, Alejano said.
The Department of National Defense said it would confirm the veracity of the report, adding there was no “substantiated report” on the ground to confirm the incident.
Zhao assured the Philippines that China was not out to attack any sovereign territory in the South China Sea.