The top diplomat for the nation of the Philippines, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr., reportedly urged the country’s Senate on Wednesday to embrace a mutual defense treaty between the nation and the United States to involve the American military in its ongoing territorial conflict with China.
Locsin, the most powerful diplomat representing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, reportedly repeated an argument that Duterte himself has made in the past: the Philippine military does not have the power to confront China, but its treaty-bound ally, the United States, does. Locsin urged lawmakers to have the “courage” to invoke the treaty in light of a fleet of hundreds of Chinese ships spotted illegally occupying Julian Felipe Reef, a Philippine territory, this week.
“We do have a Mutual Defense Treaty which says very clearly, and has been explained by (former State) Secretary (Mike) Pompeo and (current) Secretary of State (Anthony) Blinken after him, that any attack on a Philippine vessel – however small, as long as it is a government vessel like a Coast Guard – is an attack on the United States and triggers the Mutual Defense Treaty,” Locsin said on Wednesday, according to Philippine outlet One News.
“And believe me, that response is – shall I say – global. And that lies within our power,” he continued. “We must have the courage to go where probably we will not be able to go back from. Because if we don’t send that message to the other side, then they will just keep trenching and trenching and trenching in our territory, and then our sense of nationhood dies.”
Locsin made the comments during a Senate hearing, according to GMA News.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) denounced China for invading Julian Felipe Reef in remarks on Monday, revealing that Manila had counted 220 Chinese ships illegally present there. Philippine officials claimed the ships were part of a “maritime militia” intended to intimidate the Philippines into ceding the territory.
LOOK: An overview of fishing vessels spotted in the Julian Felipe Reef on Tuesday, March 23. The Philippine Coast Guard spotted about 220 Chinese fishing vessels in the area earlier this month.
Satellite images by Maxar Technologies via Reuters
— Rappler (@rapplerdotcom) March 25, 2021
China responded to Manila’s objections by falsely claiming that the territory in question belongs to China.
“Niu’ e Jiao [Julian Felipe Reef] is a part of China’s Nansha Qundao [the Spratly Islands]. Chinese fishing vessels have been fishing in its adjacent waters for many years,” the statement read in part. “There is no Chinese Maritime Militia as alleged. Any speculation in such helps nothing but causes unnecessary irritation.”
Statement by Spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy
in the Philippines on the Presence of Alleged Chinese Maritime Militia Vessels at Niu’e Jiao pic.twitter.com/43w6Yp1DJ4
— ChineseEmbassyManila (@Chinaembmanila) March 22, 2021
Locsin initially responded to reports of an invasion of the reef on Twitter, where he is extremely active, previewing a diplomatic offensive by writing, “I got coordinates, so to speak. And relayed to my legal artillery, ‘Fire at will.’ Shell should be flying at first light. I don’t usually announce maneuvers but it seems everybody is baring his chest.”
Following complaints from the Chinese Embassy in Manila, Locsin mocked the English language skills of the embassy’s staffers.
Chinese embassy said that in Chinese social media my expression “fire at will”—unmistakably our diplomatic protest—is portrayed in Chinese characters as an order to fire guns at Chinese boats. I am not responsible for totalitarian distortions of plain English. Correct it yourself
— Teddy Locsin Jr. (@teddyboylocsin) March 25, 2021
Locsin appeared to reiterate his request for U.S. military intervention on Wednesday, stating on Twitter that the Philippines had “enough to trigger the Mutual Defense Treaty if just one of our frigates/PCG vessel [sic] are attacked in defense of our national territory.”
The diplomat’s references to American military aid did not stop his typical criticism of the West generally on Twitter; he referred to Western powers as “useless” and “fairies” on Thursday in response to a story on the fact that the founder of Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, is reportedly still alive. He did make time on Wednesday to offer some backhanded praise to America, however, for being “the only hegemon that pays in blood & treasure to protect your country’s sovereignty … and it asks for nothing in return.”
“It is dead set on beating back Oriental despotism however materially successful it is,” he said of the United States.
Locsin has previously and repeatedly threatened to invoke the mutual defense treaty against Chinese invasions of Philippine territory, but has yet to find an occasion of an attack by the Chinese that rises to the occasion.
‘There is no kowtowing’ to China,” Locsin said in August, “unless something happens, as I said before, that is beyond incursion and in fact is an attack on, say, a Philippine vessel, in which case then I call up Washington, DC.”
A Chinese ship did attack a Philippine vessel in June 2019, still during Duterte’s tenure, sinking it in waters near the Spratly Islands, also claimed in part by Vietnam.
Then-spokesman for Duterte, Salvador Panelo, issued a scathing complaint describing the incident as “barbaric.”
“We will not allow ourselves to be assaulted, to be bullied, to be the subject of such barbaric, uncivilised and outrageous actions from any source,” he told reporters at the time. “We will cut diplomatic relations, that’s what you do whenever there are aggressive acts.”
Locsin said then that he had “fired off a diplomatic protest” over the incident but never invoked the mutual defense treaty. Duterte did not cut diplomatic relations as Panelo had threatened to.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea illegally, including substantial territory that falls within the Philippine maritime Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). China has also invaded territory belonging to Vietnam and Taiwan (which Beijing illegally claims in its entirety). Beijing claims territory additionally belonging to Malaysia and Brunei.