THE Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) should unite against increasing Chinese interference and coercion, a US senator said amid the deepening maritime conflict between the Philippines and China.
Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, a ranking member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that Asean countries “should focus on China’s foreign interference in their domestic affairs, coercive economic practices, unfounded territorial claims, and efforts to divide Asean.”
“These are tough challenges the US also faces,” he told visiting Asean journalists.
“Asean centrality is a key pillar of the US approach in the Indo-Pacific. By contrast, China exploits Asean’s commitment to consensus in order to undermine its centrality. That is not going to change, so it is very important that Asean presents a united front in the face of increased Chinese coercion and division,” the senator said.
On the South China Sea issue, he said that “the willingness of Asean claimant states to push back on China diplomatically is very important.”
Asean countries, the senator added, should also focus on increasing maritime domain awareness, joint patrols and economic development in exclusive economic zones.
He cited the close security cooperation between the Philippines and the United States, especially in facing China.
“I am particularly encouraged by close US-Philippines cooperation on defense and security issues, and our steadfastness in the face of China’s pressure on Second Thomas Shoal. This is vital, and I will continue to press the Biden Administration to ensure our alliance is up to the task of confronting today’s security environment,” Risch said.
On Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023, China accused the Philippines of trespassing in Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal.
People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force Senior Col. Tian Junli, the Chinese PLA Southern Theater Command spokesman, said China’s naval and air forces “tracked, monitored, warned and restricted” the Philippine Navy’s BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39).
He said the Philippines “seriously violated China’s sovereignty and international law, and basic norms governing international relations and is highly likely to cause misunderstanding and miscalculation.”
Bajo de Masinloc, which the Chinese call Huangyan Dao or Huangyan Island, is located about 198 kilometers west of Subic Bay in Zambales and is thus covered by the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ). China claims it has “indisputable sovereignty” over the shoal and the adjacent waters.
Philippine security officials, however, countered that the Philippines does not need permission “to enter its own backyard.”
Earlier, Risch, along with US Senators Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Marco Rubio of Florida, sent a letter to US President Joe Biden to urge him to support the Philippines after the repeated encounters between the China Coast Guard and Philippine Coast Guard in the disputed waters in the West Philippine Sea.
“Your administration has repeatedly stated that an attack on Philippine public vessels, aircraft and armed forces — including those of its Coast Guard in the South China Sea — would invoke the US mutual defense commitments. China’s actions are testing the credibility and value of these commitments, and we must respond with strength,” they said.