MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines is wary about being caught in the middle of the US and China following provocative statements made by appointees of newly elected US President Donald Trump on preventing the Asian power from controlling the South China Sea.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday, January 26, said he'd like a meeting with US Defense Secretary James Mattis to get a sense of the direction of Trump's security policy in Asia.
"I'm waiting for my counterpart, Secretary Mattis. I'd like to talk to him to get his sense about these policies because he will be the one to implement that," Lorenzana said in a press briefing on Thursday, January 26.
Trump's State Secretary Rex Tillerson earlier warned that the US would stop China from accessing its artificial islands in the South China Sea.
Trump's press secretary Sean Spicer also made pronouncements about the US making sure that there is freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
Lorenzana said the Philippines should "maintain neutrality in its foreign policy."
"We are very wary. Let's see. We will think very hard kung ipapatupad ng (if it will be implemented by) US, talaga yung sasabihin nila na (those pronouncements that) they will prevent the Chinese from retaining these islands," said Lorenzana.
"We will react accordingly when the time comes, when they will start to do that... Baka tayo maipit diyan e sa mga gagawin nila (We might be caught in the middle)," said Lorenzana.
In a recent speech before regional defense and security officials, Lorenzana said Southeast Asia should not be a "proxy" for superpower rivalries.
"In the first place, how can they prevent them from going there? Nandoon na sila (They are already there).... We will have to discuss with the National Security Council if and when the Americans will really come to the South China Sea and implement those pronouncements," Lorenzana said.
Duterte's foreign policy shift
President Rodrigo Duterte has shifted the country's foreign policy, seeking to distance itself from its longtime treaty ally US while warming ties with competing powers China and Russia.
It is a turnaround from the previous Aquino administration whose security officials, on the contrary, had wanted the Americans to have intervened more when Chinese ships occupied Scarborough Shoal off the coast of Zambales.
Duterte opted for a bilateral dialogue with China and has made a punching bag out of former US President Barack Obama, because of US criticism against his bloody war on drugs. But he has shown likeness for Trump. – Rappler.com