By Beting Laygo Dolor, Editor
MANILA – It was all about the increased US presence in the Philippines, which China considers a threat to its claim that Taiwan is a permanent part of Chinese territory.
But critics say it was more than just a veiled threat, while the Chinese embassy said it was a misunderstood statement taken out of context.
Whatever it was, various government officials took issue with Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian’s remarks at the 8th Manila Forum over the weekend to the point that one senator asked Malacanang to have him recalled.
For his part, National Security Council spokesman Jonathan Malaya said Huang had already been assured in the past that the Expanded Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA, between the US and the Philippines was never meant “for offensive operations against China or for interference in the Taiwan issue.”
Said Malaya: “Our primordial concern in Taiwan is the safety and well-being of the more than 150,000 Filipinos living and working on the island.”
He added that the government takes grave exception “to any effort by guests in our country to use this to fear-monger and intimidate us.”
In his speech, the ambassador said that the Philippines was advised to “unequivocally oppose ‘Taiwan independence.’ The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has made clear on multiple occasions that the Philippines has always maintained a “One-China” policy.
The envoy, however, took it a step too far by saying allowing the US access to the military bases near the Taiwan Strait was an ill-advised move “if you genuinely care about the 150,000 OFWs” in the self-governing island.
Opposition senator Risa Hontiveros bluntly stated: “These are truly disgraceful statements from Ambassador Huang Xilian. How dare he threaten us.”
As if on cue, the DFA announced this week that Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang would be arriving in Manila next week to meet with his local counterpart, Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo.
The DFA said the official visit “continues the series of high-level interactions between” the two countries, and would tackle “regional security issues.”
This is taken to mean that China would reiterate its statement last week expressing grave concern at EDCA as well as the biggest ever Balikatan military exercises between American and Filipino forces, which is ongoing.
The two senior officials will also cover the sensitive issue of China’s continued intrusions on the West Philippine Sea, which Beijing claims is part of the South China Sea.
While both sides have agreed to settle all issues via diplomacy, the speech of the Chinese envoy did little to improve the situation.
According to Hontiveros, “The Palace should tell Beijing to recall their representative in Manila as soon as possible. He has no business being a diplomat if he is unable to engage with us in a respectful and dignified manner.”
The senator added that the ambassador “along with his country’s ships and artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea, should pack up and leave.”
The Chinese embassy has refused to apologize for their ambassador’s ill-chosen words regarding OFWs, whom Filipinos consider as “modern day heroes” for their sacrifices to improve the lives of their families.