China warns Philippines not to ‘play with fire’ over president’s Taiwan remarks

BEIJING/MANILA (Reuters) -China summoned the ambassador from the Philippines on Tuesday and warned the country “not to play with fire” after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr congratulated Taiwan’s president-elect Lai Ching-te on his election victory.

China was “strongly dissatisfied with and resolutely opposes these remarks,” its foreign ministry spokesperson said, referring to Marcos congratulating Lai on Monday for winning Taiwan’s election and referring to him as its next president.

“The relevant remarks of President Marcos constitute a serious violation of the One China principle and … a serious breach of the political commitments made by the Philippines to the Chinese side, and a gross interference in China’s internal affairs,” spokesperson Mao Ning told a regular briefing.

“China has lodged a strong protest with the Philippines at the earliest opportunity,” and summoned its ambassador “to give China a responsible explanation”, Mao said.

“We suggest that President Marcos read more books to properly understand the ins and outs of the Taiwan issue, so as to draw the right conclusions.”

The Philippines’ foreign ministry in a statement earlier on Tuesday reaffirmed the country’s “One China policy” and said the message of Marcos intended to recognise the Philippines and Taiwan’s “mutual interests”, including 200,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the democratically governed island.

It said the message “was his way of thanking them for hosting our OFWs and holding a successful democratic process. Nevertheless, the Philippines reaffirms its One China Policy.”

Asked by Reuters for comment on Beijing’s summoning of the Philippine envoy and China’s rebuke, the office of Marcos reiterated the earlier statement on the “One China policy”.

Beijing’s fury over the remarks is the latest in a succession of clashes between the Philippines and China, which come as Manila bolsters ties with former colonial ruler the United States, including expanding an agreement on Washington’s use of its military bases.

Other leaders have also congratulated Lai on his victory, with many, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa, calling for peaceful resolution of tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

Separately, Taiwan’s foreign ministry expressed its thanks to Marcos, saying Taiwan and the Philippines “share values such as freedom, democracy and the rule of law” and Taiwan would further deepen cooperation and exchanges.”

The Philippines has unofficial ties with Taipei, with its Manila Economic and Cultural Office in Taiwan serving as a de facto embassy.

(Reporting by Mikhail Flores in Manila and Andrew Hayley and Beijing newsroom; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor, Martin Petty and Michael Perry)