BEIJING: China’s top newspaper accused the Philippines of orchestrating a plot to deliberately stir up tensions over the disputed South China Sea, and warned that Beijing’s patience should not be mistaken for weakness.
The Philippines may ask the United States to deploy spy planes over the area to help monitor its waters, President Benigno Aquino told Reuters on Monday, a move that could worsen tensions with its giant neighbour China.
China and the Philippines only recently stepped back from a months-long standoff at the Scarborough Shoal, a horseshoe-shaped reef near the Philippines in waters they both claim – the latest round of naval brinkmanship over the resource-rich sea.
China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia all have competing claims in the South China Sea, but China’s claims encompass almost all its waters.
A commentary in Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily yesterday said the Philippines was once more planning to stoke tensions over the issue at a key regional security summit starting later this week in Cambodia.
“On the cusp of the ASEAN foreign ministers meetings, the Philippines is sparing no effort to stir up the South China Sea issue through all sorts of means, and we should be on guard against its plots,” the newspaper wrote.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) meeting will be attended in its latter stages by China and the United States, who have repeatedly clashed over the South China Sea. China has warned that “external forces” should not get involved.
The United States has stressed it is neutral in the long-running maritime dispute, despite offering to help boost the Philippines’ decrepit military forces.
The People’s Daily said ASEAN was not the right forum to discuss the South China Sea, repeating the government’s stance that talks should only happen on a bilateral basis between the countries directly involved.
The Cambodia summit should instead focus on other issues, it suggested, like an ASEAN nuclear weapons-free zone.
All countries, including the Philippines, would also do well to remember the economic benefits they have gained from China’s boom, it added.
“What the Philippines wants to do runs counter to the common interest of ASEAN, and will not be echoed by many other countries,” the paper said.
“China’s cherishing of regional peace and stability and … good intentions should not be seen as weakness nor as yielding.”
The commentary was published under the pen name “Zhong Sheng”, meaning “Voice of China”, which is often used to give the paper’s view on foreign policy issues.