By Roy Mabasa
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. has joined his fellow foreign ministers in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United States in expressing their concerns over China’s “provocative behavior” in the South China Sea amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic that is currently ravaging many parts of the world, including the Philippines.
“In Asia, that recovery hinges on China’s recovery from the ravages of the pandemic; but it can never be at the price of our honor and sovereignty,” Locsin said during his intervention at the ASEAN-US Special Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) held via videoconferencing on Thursday.
The ASEAN and US officials acknowledged the importance of contributing to the maintenance of peace, security, stability, and the rule of law in the region amid the fight against COVID-19.
“This is essential at a time when countries must not only navigate the COVID crisis, but must also prepare a post-pandemic plan of social and economic recovery,” Locsin added.
US State Secretary Michael Pompeo, on the other hand, lashed out at China for “exploiting” the world’s attention on the pandemic by continuing its provocative behavior in the South China Sea, citing among others, the sinking of a Vietnamese vessel early this month and the establishment of “research stations” on Fiery Cross Reef and Subi Reef.
“The CCP (Chinese Communist Party) is exerting military pressure and coercing its neighbors in the SCS, even going so far as to sink a Vietnamese fishing vessel. The U.S. strongly opposes China’s bullying and we hope other nations will hold them to account too,” Pompeo said in a statement.
On Thursday, the Philippines filed two diplomatic protests against China for pointing a radar gun at a Philippine Navy ship and declaring a Philippine territory as part of Hainan province, violating international law and the country’s sovereignty.