By Genalyn Kabiling
Malacañang has adopted a “wait-and see” approach to the incoming Trump administration’s position on the territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
Presidential communications secretary Martin Andanar made the remark after U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state pushed for a ban of China in the artificial islands built in the disputed seas.
“The remarks of Mr. Rex Tillerson during his confirmation hearing before the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee reflect his personal beliefs and should be respected,” Andanar said. “The reasonable response is to wait and see what the new administration’s policy pronouncements will be.”
For now, the Duterte administration is committed to pursue a peaceful resolution to the territorial conflict with China.
“What is important is for both sides to remain committed to peace and stability in this part of the world and to refrain from any and all acts that would jeopardize freedom of navigation and overflights along this vital sea lane,” Andanar said.
Tillerson, former Exxon Mobil Corp chairman, said China should be denied access to islands it has built in the contested South China Sea. He said China’s land reclamation and military buildup were similar to ‘Russia’s taking Crimea’ from Ukraine.
“We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed,” he said.
President Duterte has tried to mend the country’s relations with China and agreed to start a bilateral dialogue to settle the territorial row. The two countries have also agreed to forge closer economic cooperation and investments despite the unresolved dispute in the South China Sea.