“The South China Sea issue is only a small part of China-Philippines relations, or — as Foreign Secretary [Teodoro] Locsin put it — just a little pebble on the avenue leading to our mutually beneficial economic progress. We mustn’t stumble over the little pebble,” Huang said in an online forum of the Association for Philippines-China Understanding.
Huang said both countries have taken the same approach since then President Corazon Aquino visited China in April 1988 and then Paramount Leader Deng Xiaoping said that both countries could put aside disputes about the South China Sea and instead look at joint development.
Thus, Huang said, Beijing would continue to engage with Manila in joint COVID-19 prevention and control and exchange experiences on resumption of work and production.
This, the envoy said, include efforts to hasten the exchanges of urgently needed personnel and a “green corridor” for logistics, so as to secure industrial supply chains.
“We should also seize the new opportunities highlighted amid the pandemic, to strengthen such digital economic cooperation areas as 5G, big data, and artificial intelligence to foster new growth drivers for bilateral cooperation,” he said.
Despite increasing criticism from the United States and its allies over Chinese maritime claims, Huang said all countries enjoy freedom of navigation in the South China Sea “in accordance with international law.”
“We should not allow external powers to roil the waters in the South China Sea, nor derail the sound development of China-Philippines friendly relations. History has time and again taught us bitter lessons that intervention of external powers could only bring tears and fire, turmoil and unrest, to regional countries at the end of the day, which would be the last thing we would like to see,” he said.
Huang said peace and stability remained China’s “utmost strategic interest” in the South China Sea, which also serves the common fundamental interests of the Philippines and the rest of Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).
But former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario on Friday argued for the resumption of the anti-China policy he espoused when he was secretary from 2011 to 2016.
“We wish to say that this is not about me. This is about our countrymen and the West Philippine Sea. This is about China illegally seizing our lands and waters, which our forefathers fought for us and our children and grandchildren. This is about China taking our food, oil and gas that form part of our national patrimony reserved for Filipinos to help our country live and prosper,” Del Rosario said.
The former secretary said his stand on the West Philippine Sea had always been constant.
He said his campaign had been about fishermen driven away from their fishing grounds by the Chinese, the coral reef systems that were destroyed in the reclamation.