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Duterte seeks a peaceful solution to the South China Sea dispute – Radio Free Asia

President Rodrigo Duterte said the Philippines would promote peaceful resolution of disputes with Beijing on Tuesday, after Manila’s foreign office threatened to submit daily diplomatic protests over the ships. China remains anchored in a disputed reef in the South China Sea.

This is the President’s first direct comment on the matter since Philippine government officials say Chinese militia ships have been found moored together at the Whitsun reef in the Spratly archipelago. .

“We will continue to address matters of Julian Felipe through diplomatic channels and through peaceful means,” Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, said, reading a statement from the president. used the Filipino name for the Whitsun Reef. “Any difference between us and China will not define our bilateral relationship.”

“It will not be an obstacle to the positive trajectory of our bilateral friendship and our growing cooperation in the response to a pandemic, including vaccine and recovery cooperation,” he said. after the pandemic ”.

Julian Felipe, or Whitsun Reef, is in the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.

In recent days, Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana has been having a verbal war with the Chinese Embassy over the continuous presence of dozens of Chinese ships in the region. After canceling a press conference he scheduled for Tuesday on the matter, Lorenzana announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and will adhere to quarantine guidelines.

On Monday, the State Department threatened to submit daily diplomatic protests against China until Beijing removed its ships from the Philippines’ EEZ.

In a Facebook post two days earlier, the Chinese Embassy said the ships were in Beijing’s territory.

“Niu’e Jiao is part of China’s Nansha Islands. The waters surrounding Niu’e Jiao have been the traditional fishing grounds of Chinese fishermen for many years, “said the statement. Niu’e Jiao is the Chinese name for the Whitsun Reef.

The Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request from BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, for Tuesday’s comment.

Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea while six other Asian governments – Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam – have their own claims overlapping with China. While Indonesia does not consider itself a party to the South China Sea dispute, Beijing claims historic rights to portions of the sea that overlap Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.

Vaccine

The Philippines started its coronavirus vaccination program in early March, using a vaccine sponsored by a Chinese state-owned company, Sinovac. Anglo-Swedish AstraZeneca vaccine dosage has arrived and has been released.

“China has provided us with everything but has never really asked for anything from us,” Duterte said in February when the Philippines received 600,000 doses of the vaccine developed by Sinovac.

The Philippines has received 2.5 million doses of the vaccine from Sinovac and AstraZeneca and has had 855,000 vaccinations as of Tuesday, according to a document published by Carlito Galvez, the official leading the procurement efforts. government vaccines.

Galvez, a former military general, said China’s vaccines and China’s moves in the South China Sea were two separate problems.

“The Chinese government is joining us in the fight against COVID-19,” he said.

“It is a war for humanity. This issue of the West Philippine Sea is unique, ”he said, using the Philippine name for the South China Sea.

The strike group exercises

While the Philippines is urging China to remove its ships from the region, US naval vessels have returned to the South China Sea.

A U.S. carrier strike group entered the waterways on Sunday to carry out maritime strike exercises, anti-submarine operations, coordinated tactical training, and other operations, the Navy said. . It doesn’t say when the exercises are over.

“It is great to be back in the South China Sea to reassure our allies and partners that we remain committed to self-defense,” said Rear Admiral Doug Verissimo, Commander of the Aircraft Attack Group Theodore Roosevelt. due at sea.

The strike group included the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, a guided missile cruiser and a squadron of destroyers.

Recent US military exercises in the South China Sea have received much criticism from Beijing.

When the same group attacked the South China Sea in January, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that “it is not beneficial for the United States to regularly send military ships and aircraft to the South China Sea to show off muscles. for regional peace and stability. , ”Reported BenarNews at the time.

A month later, the strike group was joined by the Nimitz Carrier Attack Group to conduct dual carrier operations in the South China Sea.

Other countries are also conducting military exercises in the region. Canada dispatched the Halifax HMCS Calgary class frigate across the South China Sea last week while traveling from Brunei to Vietnam, Canada Broadcasting Corp reported.

Meanwhile, a Vietnamese frigate conducted combat drills with an anti-submarine helicopter in the Spratly Islands, Vietnamese media reported on Tuesday while not announcing the date of the exercise.

Reported by BenarNews, an online news service affiliated with RFA.



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