President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines has expressed growing concern over the situation in the South China Sea (SCS), characterising it as 'more dire' due to China's expanding presence in an area marked by overlapping territorial claims, reported AP News.
Marcos highlighted China's increasing interest in atolls and shoals close to the Philippines, with the nearest atoll just 60 nautical miles away.
"Unfortunately, I cannot report that the situation is improving," the Philippines President said, adding, "the situation has become more dire than it was before."
Marcos was speaking after a talk at the Daniel K Inouye Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies in Honolulu and acknowledged the worsening situation during a question-and-answer session.
The Philippines President was on his way home from a regional summit in San Francisco, made a stop in Hawaii to engage with US military leaders and the local Filipino community.
This visit holds historical significance for Marcos, given that his father, former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, sought exile in Hawaii in 1986 following his ousting during a people-backed uprising in the Philippines.
The timing of Marcos's visit aligns with a shift in the Philippines' foreign relations, as the nation strengthens its alliance with the US. This shift contrasts with the approach of Marcos's predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who fostered closer ties with China and Russia.
China claims nearly the entire SCS, disregarding territorial claims by the Philippines and other nations. Marcos reiterated the Philippines' unwavering stance on protecting its territory.
"The Philippines will not give a single square inch of our territory to any foreign power," he said in his speech.
The US has accused China of militarising islands in the SCS, raising tensions. Marcos noted that features in the region are being converted into military bases.
He said, features in the SCS are "slowly being turned into bases".
Recent tensions escalated as China blockaded a Philippine marine outpost on Second Thomas Shoal, also known as Ayungin Shoal.
In 1999, in order to marks its claims in the area, the Philippines Navy deliberately grounded a World War II-era transport ship, the 'Sierra Madre,' at Second Thomas Shoal and converted it into a military outpost.
Since then, a contingent of Philippine Marines has remained stationed there, asserting the country's claim to the area.
The Philippines regularly conducts supply missions to this outpost, but China is preventing them using illegal measures, including ramming its militia vessels and using water cannons on Philippine supply ships.
Despite these tensions, the US and the Philippines maintain a mutual defence treaty dating back to 1951.
Marcos acknowledged the US as a primary partner and ally but expressed a desire to strengthen ties with other nations that share similar values, citing Australia, Japan, and South Korea as examples.
Additionally, the Philippines aims to negotiate a code of conduct with Vietnam and Malaysia to address territorial conflicts.
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