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LOOK: China Coast Guard arrives in Manila for ‘historic’ talks

/ 02:37 PM January 14, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Coast Guard on Tuesday came out in force to welcome the China Coast Guard, as it laid anchor in Manila.

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CCG director-general Maj. Gen. Wang Zhongcai was accorded arrival honors at the PCG headquarters, which was followed by a welcome ceremony for the visiting ship at the nearby Pier 15 at South Harbor.

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PCG commandant Admiral Joel Garcia said the week-long visit which will conclude Friday of their Chinese counterpart will mark the first time in history that they will “formally sit down and talk to enhance their relationship and establish a smooth coordination” at sea.

In the coming days, the two coast guards will discuss communication protocols, search and rescue, and the possibility of conducting joint exercises on maritime security.

The China Coast Guard ships are a common sight in the South China Sea, including the waters of their neighbors like the Philippines. There are several well-publicized reports of CCG’s coercive actions to Philippine ships and fishermen in the West Philippine Sea.

Ironically, the Chinese ship’s banner read: “Strengthening Dialogue and Cooperation on Maritime Issues, Making the South China Sea a Sea of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation for the Benefit of the Two Peoples.”

Garcia said China Coast Guard’s previous actions toward Filipino fishermen and vessels at sea should not stop the Philippines from engaging them.

“Hindi naman po tamang meron na nakikitang hidwaan or kung meron sama ng loob nung mga nakaraang taon o nakaraang buwan ay isasara na natin ang ating pintuan ng pag uusap,” he told reporters.

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(It doesn’t mean that we have to close our doors to China just because we’ve had a rift or resentment in the previous years or months.)

One of Garcia’s priorities is to discuss the plight of the fishermen in the South China Sea.

“Isusulong natin ang mekanismo na mabigyan ang kaligtasan at seguridad ang mangingisda. Hindi po tama na ito ay iha-harass ng mga China Coast Guard or ibang coast guard… Napakagandang behikulo na mailatag natin sa lamesa ang nararapat gawin para mabigyan ng kaligtasan ang mga gumagamit ng West Philippine Sea o South China Sea,” he said.

(We will push for mechanisms that will ensure the safety of our fishermen. It’s not right that they are being harassed by the China Coast Guard or other coast guards using the South China Sea. This is the right forum to set the mechanisms for the safety of those using the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea.)

Both the Philippines and China are maritime adversaries over the South China Sea, where they have overlapping claims. Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Taiwan also claim parts of the strategic sea route.

China controls Scarborough Shoal, a site of a standoff in 2012 between the Philippine and Chinese government vessels. Since then, China maintained its presence there with its coast guard ships.

The shoal is a common fishing ground located within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

China insists it owns almost all of the South China Sea, including waters close to the shores of the other claimants in the strategic waterway, despite the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling in 2016 that invalidated these claims.

Relations between the Philippines and China had grown closer under the leadership of Duterte, who pushed for stronger ties with China while veering away from its traditional allies like the United States. He also downplayed the 2016 ruling in exchange for economic investments from the Asian giant.

‘Newcomer in maritime diplomacy with PCG’

Collin Koh, a research fellow and maritime security expert at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said that CCG is a new player in maritime diplomacy with PCG that it has a lot of catching up to do.

“So as far as the Beijing is concerned, such a visit is necessary, if only to ‘soften’ up the image of a service that’s long seen as a tool of coercion by neighbors. And doing it with PCG, which is arguably by far one of the very few regional maritime law enforcement (MLE) counterparts willing to engage CCG, makes this opportune,” he told INQUIRER.net.

Elsewhere in the region, neighbors are pushing back against China’s maritime aggressiveness.

Indonesia has recently protested Chinese incursions in its territorial waters. In December, Malaysia challenged China’s claims in the South China Sea when it made a new submission to the United Nations seeking clarity on the limits of its continental shelf beyond the 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the northern part of the disputed waters.

Vietnam and China were embroiled in a months-long standoff last year after Beijing sent an oil survey ship to conduct seismic surveys in waters off Vietnam.

“CCG’s engagement with regional counterparts depends greatly on the prevailing political winds in the other country. In this case, the Duterte administration’s friendliness towards China, and its interests to have coastguard engagements, made this port call possible. The same cannot be said of several other SCS claimants in Southeast Asia,” Koh said.

“Because of prevailing public perceptions towards China in the Philippines, and the potential shifts of the political administrations over time (post-Duterte in this case), CCG’s engagements with PCG might not be as stable as those between PCG and its Southeast Asian counterparts and other extra-regional partners such as Japan Coast Guard,” he added.

Edited by KGA
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