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DFA chief Manalo meets key Chinese diplomat on Ayungin laser incident

Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo on Monday said he met with Fu Ying, Vice Chairman of Foreign Affairs Committee of China's National People's Congress, at the sidelines of a security conference in Munich where they discussed the recent Chinese coast guard's aggressive actions against a Philippine government crew off Ayungin Shoal.

Manalo said he had a "broad and candid exchange" with Fu Ying, who once served as Chinese ambassador to the Philippines from 1998 to 2000.

"We talked about the latest incidents around Ayungin Shoal and how to further strengthen PH-CN relations while managing our maritime differences & regional security challenges in Indo-Pacific," Manalo said on Twitter.

The Department of Foreign Affairs on Feb. 14 lodged a strongly-worded diplomatic protest against China after the Philippine Coast Guard reported that a Chinese coast guard ship on Feb. 6 pointed a "military-grade" laser light at one of its vessels to block it from approaching the shoal during a resupply mission for Filipino troops stationed there.

The incident, which occured several days after President Ferdinand Marcos' state visit to China, resulted in the temporary blindness of the crewmembers of the BRP Malapascua.

Since 1999, a Philippine Naval vessel – the BRP Sierra Madre – has been grounded at Ayungin, also called by its international name, Second Thomas Shoal.

China defended its coast guard's actions, saying it merely used a harmless hand-held laser meant to measure the distsnce from the Philippine vessel, which it accused of intruding into its waters and was told to leave the area.

The United States, Australia, Japan, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and Denmark denounced China's actions, saying it  threatens regional peace and stability.

Washington said it is standing by its defense ally and warned anew that an armed attack on Philippine military forces, public vessels or aircraft, including those of the coast guard in the South China Sea, would invoke US mutual defense commitments under a 1951 treaty.

‘Peaceful, rules-based approach’

At a roundtable discussion in Munich over the weekend, Manalo noted the Philippines’ firm resolve to address the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea issue through peaceful and legal means.

“Rival claims can only be solved peacefully by adhering to peaceful and rules-based approaches. The Philippine approach, articulated long before and formalized in the 1982 Manila Declaration on the Peaceful Settlement of International Disputes, enjoys the support of the international community,” he said.

Manalo stressed that tensions caused by incidents and aggressive actions inconsistent with the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea are not conducive to promoting peace and stability.

China asserts historical ownership of nearly 90 percent of the waters based on historical accounts. The yearslong territorial disputes in the strategic waterway also involve Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

China was accused of militarizing the South China Sea after it was reported that it has installed missiles and radars on artificial islands it built on the waters.

Instead of a legally-binding agreement, ASEAN and China settled in 2002 for a nonbinding declaration that called on all claimants to exercise restraint and stop new occupations in the South China Sea.

The 2002 declaration, which did not carry any provision on punitive sanctions, failed to stop acts of aggression in the contested waters.

In July 2016, an international arbitral court in The Hague, Netherlands invalidated China’s historical claim over the South China Sea. The decision angered Beijing, which refused to participate in the arbitration initiated by the Philippine government in 2013.

Manalo said the Philippines has consistently advocated a rules-based international order and that the 2016 arbitral ruling “vindicated the Philippines’ position that the nine-dash line is incompatible with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).”

He also cited the broad support within the international community for the 2016 Arbitral Award “as a mooring for a rules-based maritime regime in the South China Sea.” — RSJ, GMA Integrated News