Philippines to uphold South China Sea ruling, Ardern on China’s Pacific push

MANILA / WELLINGTON –– Philippine president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Junior (picture) said Thursday he would uphold an international ruling against Beijing over the disputed South China Sea, insisting he would not let China trample on Manila’s maritime rights.

“We have a very important ruling in our favour and we will use it to continue to assert our territorial rights. It is not a claim. It is already our territorial right,” Marcos said in an interview with selected local media.

Beijing has ignored a 2016 decision by The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration that declared its historical claim over most of the South China Sea to be without basis.

Outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte set aside the ruling in exchange for promises of trade and investment, which critics said have not materialised.

In his strongest comments yet on the sensitive issue, Marcos said he would not “allow a single millimetre of our maritime coastal rights to be trampled upon”.

“We’re talking about China. We talk to China consistently with a firm voice,” he said.

But he added: “We cannot go to war with them. That’s the last thing we need right now.”

Meanwhile, the South Pacific can handle its own security needs, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Thursday as details emerged of China’s plans to significantly deepen ties with 10 island nations.

“On anything related to security arrangements, we are very strongly of the view that we have within the Pacific the means and ability to respond to any security challenges that exist, and New Zealand is willing to do that,” she said after a meeting with US senators in Washington.

“We consider the Pacific our family and so where those needs exist we are ready and willing to respond to the call.”

Beijing’s security plans for the Pacific will be the subject of discussion during Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s eight-nation tour of the region, which began on Thursday.

China wants to become involved in highly sensitive tasks like training local police, providing cybersecurity and conducting marine mapping, according to a draft agreement proposed to 10 island states obtained by AFP.

The push follows recent revelations of a security agreement China secretly negotiated with the Solomon Islands.

Ardern said she believed China was trying to increase its engagement in the region, but “actually, the need around security arrangements, we are able to meet within our region.

“It’s not for us to speak on behalf of other Pacific nations but what I can say is, where that need exists, New Zealand stands ready to respond to it,” she added.

Ardern said it was important that the region thrash out the issue at the Pacific Islands Forum, which is expected to meet in July.

The meeting “will be incredibly important as an opportunity for the Pacific to canvass its view on… the actions of China to increase its role in the Pacific”, she said.

Regional powers Australia and New Zealand have been under pressure to tighten their relationships with South Pacific governments after being taken by surprise by the Solomon Islands deal.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong will visit Fiji on Thursday, just days after taking office.

“China has made its intentions clear. So too are the intentions of the new Australian government,” she said.

“We want to help build a stronger Pacific family. We want to bring new energy and more resources to the Pacific.”

“I will be a frequent visitor,” she added. –AFP