Philippine foreign secretary sees hope for Taiwan

In Washington, Manalo also says Manila cannot accept ‘harassment’ or denial of access to the South China Sea.
Alex Willemyns for RFA
2023.04.10
Washington
Philippine foreign secretary sees hope for Taiwan Enrique Manalo, the Philippines foreign secretary, speaks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., on Monday, April 10, 2023.
Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)

Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo said Monday he holds out hope for peace in Taiwan, even as China carries out war games near the island after the recent trip by its leader to the United States.

Manalo is in Washington this week to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken as part of the “2+2 Ministerial Dialogue,” which will also include Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, amid Manila’s preparations to open four more U.S. military outposts on its territory. 

But the trip comes as Beijing carries out naval military drills around the self-governing island – about two hours’ flight from Manila – following Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s recent trips to the United States, which included a meeting with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.  

Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies ahead of his meetings, Manalo said that the Philippines was closely monitoring the situation given the self-governing island is “right next door.” 

But he said that he believed Beijing’s response this time around had not been quite as aggressive as in the aftermath of the trip to Taiwan by McCarthy’s predecessor, Nancy Pelosi, in August last year. 

“Well, that really escalated tensions,” Manalo said of Pelosi’s trip to the island that Beijing considers a renegade province. “But so far, we see now that this visit is – hopefully – it’s not as it was in August.”

“This could hopefully pave the way, let’s say, for calming the situation a bit on the straits [and] between China and the United States,” he said.

South China Sea

Manalo also said that the maintenance of peace in the South China Sea, which he often referred to as the “West Philippine Sea,” was a priority for Manila as competing claims for the maritime territory are negotiated with Beijing and other claimants in Southeast Asia.

But in an apparent reference to Beijing’s unilateral moves to build-up coral reefs into naval bases in the disputed waters, he defended the “international rule-based order” as the fairest way to arbitrate control of the waters but said Manila would always “uphold its sovereignty.”

The Philippines was “at the heart of this seascape,” he said, and “the South China Sea, for us, is also about people,” with Philippine citizens relying on the waters for fishing. He said Manila would therefore not accept any “harassment” or “denial of access” to the waters.

“The Philippines has been clear and consistent about our interest in maintaining the South China Sea as a sea of peace and stability – and [about] our aim to boost our defense capabilities,” he said. 

Manalo meets with Blinken and Austin on Tuesday.

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