05/11/2024, 13.43
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South China Sea: Manila on the brink of expelling Chinese diplomats

China this week released the recording of an alleged telephone conversation from January during which a high-ranking Philippine naval officer agrees to make concessions to Chinese officials. Yesterday the Philippines’ national security adviser stressed that such a leak constitutes a violation of Philippine laws.

Manila (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Tensions remain high between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea.

General Eduardo Año (ret), the Philippine’s National Security Adviser, called for the expulsion of Chinese diplomats after the release of an alleged phone conversation involving a Philippine naval officer.

“The Chinese Embassy's repeated acts of engaging in and dissemination of disinformation, misinformation, and malinformation – now releasing spurious transcripts or recordings of purported conversations between officials of the host country – should not be allowed to pass unsanctioned or without serious penalty,” said yesterday General Año in a statement.

The alleged conversation, which ostensibly took place in January, was released this week. In the audio recording, a Chinese diplomat and a high-ranking Philippine naval officer, Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, discuss the dispute in the South China Sea, where Beijing has repeatedly invaded the territorial waters not only of the Philippines, but also of other Southeast Asian countries, to gain control over fisheries and other marine resources.

The Philippine military has reportedly agreed to "deescalate tensions in Ayungin," a submerged reef (known internationally as Second Thomas Shoal) part of the Spratly Islands, where a small contingent of Philippine sailors live aboard a warship intentionally grounded in 1999 to further Philippine territorial claims. Today the military outpost is regularly resupplied.

Vice Admiral Carlos reportedly promised to limit the number of Philippine ships going to the base and provide advance notice to China.

China's Foreign Ministry immediately responded to Año's statements on Friday, saying they "solemnly demand that the Philippines ensure Chinese diplomats perform their duties normally."

Relations between the two countries are likely to remain strained, according to observers, despite promises made in January to improve communications and manage tensions.

Since the start of the year, the Philippine Coast Guard and the Chinese Navy have reportedly clashed three times, Philippine authorities said.

On several occasions, China has referred to an alleged "secret agreement" with former President Rodrigo Duterte, who was more pro-Chinese than his successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Under the alleged agreement, Manila promised not to repair or build facilities at the Second Thomas Shoal, but the Philippine defence minister said he was not aware of any such deal.

Don McLain Gill, an analyst and lecturer at De La Salle University in Manila, told Nikkei Asia that if the Philippines does expel Chinese diplomats, China is likely to respond in kind.

At present, the issue remains without a real resolution.

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