NSA Carlos questions Xi’s sincerity on peaceful negotiation of South China Sea row

The latest maritime incident involving the China Coast Guard (CCG) and the Philippine Navy (PN) in Pagasa (Thitu) Island cast doubt on the sincerity of Chinese President Xi Jinping to peacefully settle the territorial dispute between the two countries, according to the top security adviser of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

National Security Adviser Clarita Carlos (File photo courtesy of Senate PRIB)

National Security Adviser (NSA) Clarita Carlos recalled that Xi and Marcos met last Nov. 17 on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Bangkok, Thailand where the former promised to hold “constructive engagement and critical dialogue” with the latter to settle their differences related to the South China Sea.

However, a CCG vessel with bow number 5203 blocked the path of a PN rubber boat twice and “forcibly” took a metal from a suspected rocket debris that the latter was towing from Cay 1 sandbar towards Pagasa Island, the largest and one of the nine features occupied by the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), last Nov. 20. The incident raised the tension once more between Manila and Beijing.

“Nangyari na naman ito, paulit-ulit na lang ito so ano ba iyon? Ano ba ang katuturan ng sinabi ng liderato nila na si Xi Jinping? Wala bang laman ‘yon? (This happens again so what really is the point? What is the essence of the statement of their leadership, of Xi Jinping? Does it hold no meaning?),” Carlos said in a radio interview of DZBB on Tuesday, Nov. 22.

While the Chinese Embassy in Manila denied that the CCG vessel forcefully seized the metal debris from the PN boat, Carlos confirmed that there was a series of “blasts” heard in Zamora (Subi) Reef after the incident.

The blasts were loud enough to be heard by residents of Pagasa Island and are believed to be fired from artillery guns or weapons, according to Kalayaan Municipal Police.

Zamora Reef is an artificial island built by China in the Kalayaan Island Group (Spratly Islands). It is located around 26 km west of Pagasa Island.

Carlos, who also serves as the chairman of the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS), said she already reported the incident to Marcos and recommended for the filing of a note verbale against China as well as the conduct of more dialogues between the two governments.

“Tayo naman ay (We are) not at war with this country so let’s continue to dialogue,” Carlos said.

“Sana maintindihan din ng China kung saan ang ating supreme national interest. Ang supreme national interest natin at ang pagprotekta sa ating teritoryo at ang pagprotekta sa ating mga Pilipino, sa ating mga karagatan (I hope China understands where our supreme national interest lies. Our supreme national interest lies in the protection of our territory, Filipino people, and our seas),” she noted.