China warns Philippines against South China Sea ‘miscalculation’

By Liz Lee and Karen Lema

BEIJING/MANILA (Reuters) -Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned the Philippines that any miscalculation in their escalating dispute in the South China Sea would bring a resolute response, and urged dialogue to address “serious difficulties” between the two neighbours.

Beijing and Manila have traded sharp accusations in recent months over a succession of run-ins in the South China Sea, including charges that China rammed a ship earlier this month carrying the Philippine armed forces chief of staff.

China in turn has accused the Philippines of trespassing on its territory.

The souring of relations coincides with Manila’s moves to boost military ties with Japan and the United States, its former colonial power and defence ally of seven decades.

“China-Philippines relations are at a crossroads,” Wang told his Philippine counterpart Enrique Manalo in a call on Wednesday, according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement. A ministry spokesperson said Manalo had requested the call.

If the Philippines misjudges or colludes with “ill-intentioned” external forces, China would defend its rights and respond resolutely, Wang was quoted saying. The statement did not elaborate on what actions it might take.

Wang’s remarks could intensify a dispute that has simmered for years, with the Philippines pushing back at what it sees as a Chinese campaign to prevent it from accessing fossil fuel and fisheries resources in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

An escalation towards an armed confrontation, while unlikely, would be a significant raising of the stakes, with the United States bound by a 1951 treaty to defend the Philippines should it come under attack, including in the South China Sea.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, in a speech before troops on Thursday, said the country remained committed to bolstering its armed forces and its existing alliances, while citing the incident involving the armed forces chief as worrisome.

“You have become crucial as in the past years the Philippines has found itself in the middle of geopolitical developments and tensions that could potentially cause regional insecurity,” he told the gathering at military headquarters in Manila.


China claims almost the entire South China Sea via a so-called nine dash line that overlaps with the EEZs of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and Indonesia.

An international arbitration tribunal in 2016 invalidated China’s claim in a ruling on a case brought by the Philippines, which Beijing did not recognise.

China has instead doubled down, maintaining a heavy coast guard presence throughout the South China Sea, including around militarised manmade islands it built upon reefs in disputed waters, some with missile systems.

Both sides have, at the same time, called for dialogue.

Manalo said in a statement that he had a frank and candid exchange with Wang where both “noted the importance of dialogue”.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said on Thursday: “China’s position remains unchanged that disputes should be properly managed through dialogue and consultation.”

Marcos has strengthened ties with the United States, including expanding U.S. access to his military bases while seeking assurances on the extent to which Washington will defend his country from attack – moves that have irked China and emboldened Manila’s defence top brass.

Philippines Defence Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said on Thursday his country was also likely to hold multilateral patrols next year in the West Philippine Sea – the term it uses for its 200-mile EEZ in the South China Sea.

A day earlier, Teodoro rebuked China and said “no country in the world” supports its maritime claim. The United States and other western powers have condemned China’s coastguard for confronting and blocking Philippine vessels in Manila’s EEZ.

(Reporting by Liz Lee and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing, Shanghai newsroom, Karen Lema and Neil Jerome Morales in Manila; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor and Martin Petty; Editing by Edmund Klamann)