Corporates join growing chorus vs. Chinese ships in Philippine reef
MANILA, Philippines — Businesspeople on Wednesday joined growing calls for the withdrawal of Chinese vessels swarming the West Philippine Sea that raised red flags China is out to take over territories in the area.
“We call on the Chinese authorities to respect the sovereignty of the Philippine and other neighboring countries for it is only through peaceful co-existence that we can achieve prosperity for all,” eight business groups said in a joint statement.
The business groups were led by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the largest in the country, as well as Manila-based Management Association of the Philippines, Makati Business Club, Judicial Reform Initiative, Filipina CEO Circle, Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference for Human Development. Outside the capital, respective business clubs from Cebu and Iloilo also joined the statement.
It was the first official private sector rebuke of China over 240 Chinese vessels that have largely been stationary around Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef despite initial claims by Beijing that they were merely seeking cover from bad weather. Weather has been fair for about a month that ships had been there, according to the defense department.
Industry officials echoed contention from their government counterparts over the past days that the reef, and neighboring areas, are legally part of the country under the arbitration ruling that the Philippines won in 2016.
“We call on the Chinese authorities to respect the sovereignty of the Philippines and other neighboring countries for it is only through peaceful co-existence that we can achieve prosperity for all,” businesspeople said.
While there are no signs of any withdrawal from the Chinese, the Philippines’s response has also been limited to scathing statements from Cabinet officials. The US has backed the Philippines’ territorial claims, and would soon hold joint drills in the area— in a show of force to what China dubbed as “maritime militia” currently congregating in the country’s territorial waters.
Still, President Rodrigo Duterte has been eerily silent on the issue, save for a statement from his spokesperson, Harry Roque, that the Palace is backing a peaceful settlement of the matter. Duterte, whose popularity has suffered a huge drop over his pandemic response, was last seen in a televised briefing on Monday, where he made no mention of the rising sea tensions.
The result, at the most, is a rare public tit-for-tat between Philippine and Chinese officials that even crossed social media at one point. More officially, the foreign affairs department fired another diplomatic protest against China early Wednesday.
As it is, the current bilateral spat is already appearing to be the most contentious under the Duterte administration, which for most of its leadership, has refused to use the arbitral ruling against China in a bid to exact economic favors. Five years on, while tourism has boomed before the pandemic due to Chinese tourists, most other economic benefits like infrastructure and investments have not materialized.
“China and the Philippines share many things in common including being subjugated by colonizers and having their natural resources plundered,” the business groups said. “Now that China is strong economically and militarily, we call on China to refrain from becoming an imperial power.”