The Philippines said it cannot afford to have another crisis after the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, and has asked the United States to step up diplomatic efforts to ease the tension in the Taiwan Strait.
“We can ill afford further escalation of tensions in the region. We already face significant challenges as we work to get our economy back on track and better especially after the COVID-19 pandemic,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo in his opening remarks during a virtual bilateral meeting with US State Department Secretary Antony Blinken.
Blinken is in Manila for a two-day visit at a time when tension in the Taiwan Strait is at its peak after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island last Wednesday. As retaliation, China blockaded the island with its naval and air force assets and imposed economic sanctions. The US has also positioned three of its aircraft carriers near the Taiwan Strait.
The Philippines, situated just south of Taiwan, had earlier expressed concern that these military exercises and posturing could lead to accidental misfires or actual shooting.
“The Philippines continues to look to the big powers to calm the waters and keep the peace,” Manalo said. “We all know that no one country will be able to do this on its own. We look to the United States as an important ally, partner, and friend as we chart the path forward.”
Blinken, who just came from Cambodia for a series of meetings with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), said that based on his dialogue with his counterparts in the region, the US is expected to keep open lines of communication with China.
“They certainly expect us, the United State and China, to manage our differences responsibly. That’s what the United States is determined to do,” Blinken said.
He recalled that prior to the visit of Pelosi to Taiwan, he has spoken with Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of the G20 Meetings in Bali, as well as US President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, warning about the US House leader’s plan.
“Maintaining dialogue is arguably more important when we’re in the period of heightened tensions as we are now because of Chinese activities around Taiwan. We seek to de-escalate those tensions and I think dialogue is a very important element to that,” he said.
Manalo said the Philippines is ready to offer “in whatever way we can” to encourage more dialogue between China and the US.
Aside from the Taiwan Strait impasse, Blinken and Manalo also discussed other security concern that still concerns China — the West Philippine Sea.
Blinken reiterated Washington DC’s “ironclad” commitment that it would help the Philippines in case a Philippine military vessel or ship is attacked in the West Philippine Sea, as part of its obligation under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.
Manalo said among the possible areas of cooperation that both are looking into is holding a joint maritime patrol in the West Philippine Sea.