China is not a threat to the Philippines despite its reported continuous fortification of its artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said.
“The Chinese is not a military threat to us although we still keep our alliance with the United States and we respect that alliance but it doesn’t mean that we have the same enemies,” Cayetano told reporters after attending the ASEAN Mayors Forum at Shangri-la hotel in Taguig City.
He gave the assurance amid reports that China has continued its construction activities on Panganiban (Mischief), Zamora (Subi) and Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) reefs.
President Rodrigo Duterte, in an interview with reporters after delivering his second State of the Nation Address on Monday, said Chinese missiles are pointed at the Philippines.
“They (China) have the missiles now, nakatutok na sa atin (they are aimed at us). It will reach Metro Manila in seven minutes,” Duterte had said.
United States think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in its June 29 report claimed that new missile shelters and communication facilities were built by China.
But Cayetano stressed that China “is not threatening us.”
“China has repeatedly assured us that those (missiles) are for defense. They are not a threat to us, they are not threatening us,” he said.
The DFA chief also downplayed the CSIS report on the West Philippines Sea (WPS), noting that it has not given the entire picture.
But even if the Philippines considers China as an ally, it does not mean that it would not do anything in case China did something that would affect the stability in the WPS.
If fact, he said, the DFA had undertaken diplomatic actions in relation to China’s maritime activities and would continue to protect the interest of the Philippines.
Cayetano also said on Wednesday the Philippines will consult its nine fellow Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members about Manila’s proposal to jointly explore the South China Sea with Beijing.
“It will not be a unilateral action from the Philippines because the premise of the president is peace and stability, and unilateral action by anybody leads to destabilization,” he told reporters.
“There will also have to be consultations with the whole ASEAN because we want to keep the stability there.”
The South China Sea will be on the agenda as Cayetano meets his ASEAN counterparts in Manila next week.
Cayetano refused to say if the joint China-Philippines oil and gas exploration would be in specific areas of the sea also claimed by ASEAN members Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
Taiwan also claims almost the entire area, which is believed to sit atop vast oil and gas reserves, but is not an ASEAN member.
Negotiations for a joint exploration had “peaked” during Duterte’s visit to Beijing in May where he told Chinese President Xi Jinping that he intended to drill for oil in the South China Sea, according to Cayetano.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, visiting Manila on Tuesday, said Beijing was open to joint development.