Monday, March 4, 2024

US ally slams China after Beijing issues warning

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The Philippines has hit back after China warned the U.S. ally over its plan to upgrade a remote military outpost less than 130 miles from Taiwan.

“China’s pronouncements and acts are the main reasons for its low credibility with the Filipino people,” the Philippines’ Defense Ministry wrote on Saturday in a press release.

Thie latest salvos came just weeks after representatives from Manila and Beijing met to discuss ways to lower the tensions around their territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

Last week, the Philippines concluded its latest supply run to its marine outpost at China-claimed Second Thomas Shoal, apparently without a hitch— unlike the showdowns seen during other recent missions. This sparked discussions over whether the envoys might have made progress.

Early last week, Philippine armed forces chief General Romeo Brawner Jr. and Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. visited a naval base on Mavulis Island in the far north archipelago province of Batanes. Calling region the “spearhead” of Philippine territory, Teodoro pledged to fortify the island with expanded infrastructure and troop numbers.

Newsweek has reached out the Armed Forces of the Philippines and China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs via written requests for comment.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin responded to news of the planned upgrades to the base, which sits closer to Taiwan than to the Philippine capital Manila, during his daily press conference on Thursday.

Wang warned: “The Taiwan question is at the heart of China’s core interests and is a red line and bottom line that must not be crossed.” The Philippines must take care not to “play with fire” and avoid being “manipulated and eventually hurt,” he added.

The Philippines has not publicly mentioned Taiwan in its recently announced upgrades to Batanes and other military installations.

China claims self-ruled Taiwan as its territory, though the Chinese Communist Party government in Beijing has never governed there.

The Philippines returned fire in Saturday’s press release: “Batanes is Philippine territory, and China has no business warning the Philippines about what it does within its territory.”

A Philippine Air Force Black Hawk helicopter lands on June 29, 2023, on Mavulis Island, Batanes. Amid increasing geopolitical tension between the U.S., China, and Taiwan, the Philippines is grappling with the potential fallout.

Ezra Acayan/AFP via Getty Images

The proposed facility renovations and personnel transfers are among the steps being taken to “address vulnerabilities and enhance our capacity to defend our national interest through certain long-term plans,” the statement said.

China should refrain from engaging in provocative rhetoric and activities if it truly wants to earn the widespread trust and respect that it is trying so hard to gain, but has, so far, been unable to do,” the defense department concluded.

Mavulis sits on one side of the strategic Bashi Channel. This waterway, along with the Miyako Strait, are narrow openings—and potential chokepoints—along the so-called first island chain of U.S. partners and allies.

China views the chain as an obstruction to full military deployment in the open Pacific.