Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.. he said that the protracted disputes in the South China Sea that involve China, Philippines and other coastal states have kept him “up at night” and warned that any major confrontation in Asia, similar to the war in Ukraine, would be disastrous for the world.
Marcos spoke on Wednesday at a dialogue table of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss alpine town of Davoswhere he was asked about his seven-month presidency, his economic strategy and his main security concerns, including the increasingly tense territorial conflicts in the South China Sea.
The feud “keeps you up at night, it keeps you up during the day, it keeps you up most of the time… It’s very dynamic, it’s constantly changing, so you have to pay attention to it,” Marcos said in response to a question from the forum’s president, Borge Brende.
The rising tensions between China and Taiwan, which lie across the maritime border from the northern Philippines, have also been a key concern, he said. “We are on the front line,” she said. “If something goes wrong, we will suffer”.
Marcos warned that any major conflict in Asia, such as what the war in Ukraine has shown, would unleash headwinds around the world.
“We were all quite surprised, especially us in the Philippines, to think that the war in Eastern Europe would affect agriculture in the Philippines,” Marcos said. “If a similar situation occurred in the region, it would be really, I would say, disastrous for the rest of the world”.
It is crucial to avoid getting caught up in great power rivalries such as between Washington and Beijing in Asia, he said.
“I don’t work for Beijing, I don’t work for Washington, DC I work for the Philippines“, he claimed. “That really translates into a very simple foreign policy statement, which is: I promote the national interest.”
Marcos said the Philippine government has been asked to do more to defend its territorial waters, but added that a military solution to the conflicts was not an option.
“We have no conflicting claims with China. What we have is China making claims to our territory“, said.
“Nobody wants to go to war. We do not. Chinese no. Neither does the United States,” said Marcos, who added that “the mere fact that tensions in the region are increasing already has an effect on trade, on all the exchanges we maintain.”
Asked if he raised the territorial disputes with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, on a visit to Beijing earlier this month, Marcos said talks on the sensitive issue were inevitable, but acknowledged that he did not expect any major resolution. “When I spoke to President Xi, I told him that we are not going to decide the territorial issues between the Philippines and China here today,” Marcos said.
The Philippine leader added, without elaborating, that he spoke of recent incidents between the Chinese and Philippine coast guards and fishing boats in the disputed waterway.
The Philippines has lodged hundreds of diplomatic protests over China’s increasingly assertive actions in disputed waters., which Beijing claims virtually in full. Manila sent nearly 200 protest notes to Beijing last year alone, 65 of them since Marcos Jr. took office in June, according to the Manila Department of Foreign Affairs.
In addition to China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have become embroiled in disputes over the busy waterway. Tensions escalated after Beijing turned seven disputed reefs into what are now missile-protected island bases to bolster its claims, alarming the United States and its Asian and Western allies.
“It has become terribly complex and very, very dynamic and requires a lot of attention,” Marcos said of the long-pending disputes.
(With information from AP)
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