Prepare to make sacrifices, Filipinos are told
Raissa Robles in Manila
Filipinos have been told by the nation's foreign secretary to prepare for sacrifices, in an escalation of rhetoric with China over a month-long maritime dispute.
The comments by Albert del Rosario came yesterday in a fiery speech to a packed audience of the country's top businessmen in Manila, in which he said the Philippines would not back down in defending Scarborough Shoal, known in Chinese as Huangyan Island.
'Let me say this: we need to defend what is ours,' he said. 'If we are tested, we need to make a sacrifice.'
His comments follow equally strong statements on Tuesday by China's top diplomat, State Councillor Dai Bingguo, that China would not tolerate bullying by smaller countries, such as the Philippines.
The two nations have been engaged in a stand-off over the Scarborough Shoal since April 10, when the Philippine authorities accused Chinese boats of illegal fishing.
Despite the combative talk, Del Rosario also stressed the Philippines was exploring ways of resolving the dispute peacefully. But he also said it was still considering third-party arbitration, such as going to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, or the International Court of Justice. 'Do we have to have China with us as we go to dispute settlement mechanisms? The answer is no,' he said.
Tensions eased this week when both countries separately imposed a moratorium on fishing in areas that include the disputed shoal. However, that move has drawn official protest from Vietnam's foreign ministry, which declared the ban invalid because it affects parts of the South China Sea Hanoi also claims.
Beijing may also take exception to Tuesday's docking of a US nuclear attack submarine, the USS North Carolina, in Subic Bay in the Philippines, after China's defence ministry last week denied it was preparing for war. Both the Philippines and China are keeping military assets away from the disputed shoal after Manila initially deployed and then pulled back its largest warship.
Of the US submarine's presence, Del Rosario told the South China Morning Post: 'It's not provocation because they're there for reprovisioning.' The US has been reluctant to publicly take sides in the dispute but the Philippines has been vocal about the Mutual Defence Treaty between the two nations which covers 'an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the parties'.
The Philippine defence force is vastly underequipped compared to China, and last month requested patrol boats and radar systems from the US.
Yesterday, Philippine President Benigno Aquino said his nation was considering buying two squadrons of military jets to boost its air force, but would not say from which country.