January 23, 2021
THE CHINESE government on Monday accused US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien of inciting hostilities...

THE CHINESE government on Monday accused US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien of inciting hostilities after his remarks on the South China Sea dispute and Chinese actions in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

“He blatantly accused China on no ground, grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs, deliberately exaggerated regional tensions and attempted to sow discord between China and the Philippines,” the Chinese Embassy said in a statement on Monday evening.

Mr. O’Brien in a teleconference from Manila on Monday reaffirmed US support for its allies in the Indo-Pacific region against China over its unfair trade practices, intellectual property theft, as well as “human rights violations in Xinjiang with the Uyghur people, the extinguishing of the flame of democracy in Hong Kong and attempts to coerce Taiwan.”

He said there is a consensus among US republicans and democrats on the US stand against China’s aggression in the region.

The embassy said Mr. O’Brien’s statements countered the intention of his visits to the Philippines and Vietnam to promote peace and stability, instead creating chaos to serve US interests.

“We firmly oppose these remarks which are full of Cold War mentality and wantonly incite confrontation,” it added.

China said the US is not a party to the sea dispute but it frequently sends warships and planes to the South China “for military provocations and goes as far as using the electronic codes of civil aviation planes of the Philippines and other regional countries to carry out espionage flights.”

“The US is the biggest driver of the militarization of the South China Sea and the most dangerous external factor endangering peace and stability,” it added.

It “fanned the flames everywhere, stirred up confrontation among the countries in the region, interfered in the efforts of China and relevant ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries to peacefully negotiate and manage disputes, and seriously undermined regional peace and stability,” it added.

China further noted that the US invokes provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea even if it had refused to join it.

The United States government on Monday turned over almost a billion pesos worth of precision-guided missiles and munitions to the Philippine military to help it fight terrorists linked to Islamic State in the country’s south.

It donated precision-guided missiles and munitions, including 100 TOW-2A missiles, 12 ITAS, and 24 MK-82s worth $18 million or about P868 million.

Mr. O’Brien, who led the turnover ceremonies, met with his Philippine counterpart Hermogenes C. Esperon, Jr. and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr.

He reaffirmed the US commitment to activate the Mutual Defense Treaty in case the Philippines is attacked by an enemy.

Mr. O’Brien also welcomed Manila’s decision to defer a plan to end a visiting forces agreement (VFA) — a military pact on the deployment of troops for war games — with the US.

‘NATIONAL INTEREST’
The Philippine presidential palace on Tuesday said the country would keep its hands off rising tensions between the US and China.

“We do not want to take part in that drive for hegemony,” presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque told an online news briefing.

“We will assert our national interest and we would want a peaceful resolution to the West Philippine Sea dispute,” he added, referring to eastern parts of the South China Sea that include the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

The Chinese Embassy said there had been agreements at the recently concluded China-ASEAN Summit to improve dialogue and advance consultations on a South China Sea Code of Conduct, which seeks to ease tensions in the waterway.

“We urge the US side to respect China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea, respect the joint efforts of China and ASEAN countries for maintaining a peaceful and stable South China Sea and stop interfering and inciting confrontation,” it added.

Mr. O’Brien on Monday said the US in July aligned its official position on the 2016 United Nations arbitral ruling on the South China Sea. The tribunal had favored the Philippines and rejected China’s historical nine-dash line claims to more than 80% of the waterway.

The resources in the disputed waters “belong to the Philippine people,” Mr. O’Brien said.  “They don’t belong to some other country, that just because they may be big, and they may be bigger than the Philippines,” he added, alluding to China.

“That’s just wrong, and that’s why Secretary Pompeo said in February: ‘Any armed attack on the Philippine Armed Forces, aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger our mutual defense obligations,’” Mr. O’Brien said.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in February 2019 said any attacks on Philippine aircraft or ships in the South China Sea would trigger a response from the US under the Mutual Defense Treaty.

His comments sought to reassure the Philippines amid China’s island-building activities in the South China Sea. — Charmaine A. Tadalan

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