MANILA: Officials in the Philippines have stated that they have no intention of intervening in China’s dealings with Taiwan, after Beijing’s ambassador to Manila accused the Southeast Asian country of inflaming regional tensions by expanding military base access with the US.
Manila has allowed the US access to four more key positions in the Philippines, three of which face north toward Taiwan and one near an island in the disputed South China Sea.
Washington currently has access to nine military locations in the country as part of its 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.
The move comes at a time when geopolitical tensions over self-ruled Taiwan are rising, as are concerns over China’s behavior in the resource-rich waterway that Beijing claims nearly entirely.
“The National Security Council wishes to clarify that the Philippines has no intention of interfering in the Taiwan issue and will not allow itself to be used by other countries to interfere in the said issue,” said NSC spokesperson assistant director-general Jonathan Malaya in a statement released on Saturday.
Malaya stated that increased security cooperation between Manila and Washington was “meant to develop the capabilities” of the Philippine military.
“We adhere to the One China policy and the ASEAN principle of non-interference in dealing with regional issues,” he added.
“Our primary concern in Taiwan is the safety and well-being of the more than 150,000 Filipinos who live and work on the island, and we strongly oppose any attempt by visitors to our country to use this to fearmonger and intimidate us.”
The declaration came a day after Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian said Manila was exacerbating Asia-Pacific geopolitical tensions.
“Obviously, the US intends to use the new EDCA sites to interfere in the situation across the Taiwan Strait to serve its geopolitical goals,” Huang said at a symposium in Manila on Friday.
“The Philippines is advised to unequivocally oppose ‘Taiwan independence’ rather than stoking the fire by offering the US access to military bases near the Taiwan Strait if you genuinely care about the 150,000 OFWs [Overseas Filipino Workers].”
The Foreign Ministry of the Philippines did not immediately reply to calls for comment.
Huang’s statement prompted outrage among Filipinos, with senators criticizing him on Sunday.
“Ambassador Huang Xilian’s words are extremely shameful. “How dare he threaten us,” said Senator Risa Hontiveros in a statement.
“Our OFWs in Taiwan will continue to work where they are currently employed.” That’s the end of the narrative. Filipinos will thrive and earn a living in accordance with our desires.
“He, along with his country’s ships and artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea, should pack up and leave,” Hontiveros said, referring to the Philippine section of the South China Sea.
Akbayan, one of the Philippines’ most important progressive political groups, has requested the government to expel the Chinese diplomat.
“How dare [Huang] barter with our people’s lives to promote Beijing’s hegemonic agenda in the region,” the party stated in a statement.
“He has no right to threaten our citizens while enjoying the hospitality of our country.”