By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

HISTORIC TRILATERAL SUMMIT. President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. (left) attends the landmark trilateral summit with United States President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the White House in Washington, D.C. on April 11, 2024, Manila time. During the meeting, Marcos forged a stronger trilateral alliance with Biden and Kishida to protect the Indo-Pacific region. (Photo from the Presidential Communications Office)

MANILA – The Philippines’ move to strengthen alliance and partnership with the United States and Japan is Manila’s “sovereign decision” and should not be seen as a threat by any peace-loving country, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) told China on Thursday.

The statement comes after Beijing’s criticism against the trilateral leaders’ summit between President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida last week, describing it as a “smear and attack” against China.

“The trilateral cooperation is a partnership and a cooperative framework for the promotion of peace, stability and economic prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region,” the DFA said.

“It is an admirable aspiration that should not be considered a threat by any peace-loving country.”

The agency said this is a “sovereign choice and decision” of the Philippines and is in accordance with the country’s national interests and independent foreign policy.

“Our actions are in line with international law and complement our commitments in other regional and multilateral forums,” it added.

Source of tension

The agency also refuted China for alluding to the Philippines as a country “seeking backing from non-regional countries” while making “provocations at sea”.

“The source of tension in our region is well known to all. China should reflect upon its own actions in the South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea,” the DFA said.

“It is China’s excessive maritime claims and aggressive behavior, including its militarization of reclaimed features, that are undermining regional peace and stability and raising tensions,” it added.

It also scored Beijing’s “unwarranted references” to the Cold War, saying this only sensationalizes the situation and misrepresent the peaceful purpose of the Philippines-US-Japan trilateral cooperation.

“Nevertheless, those who wish to invoke the lessons of the past should also recall the need for adherence to the rule of law and how peace and stability has been maintained in our region through observance and respect for international law,” it said.

No ill intentions

The Armed Forces of the Philippines, meanwhile, maintained that the upcoming annual Balikatan exercises are not aimed at any country.

“The AFP emphasizes that the ‘Balikatan’ exercises are not directed towards any specific country,” military spokesperson Col. Francel Margareth Padilla said in a statement Thursday.

Padilla was reacting to China’s claims that the drills escalate tension, especially when countries outside the region are brought in.

Beijing also claimed that such activity will only lead to greater insecurity.

Some 16,000 Filipino and American troops would join this year’s “Balikatan” drills set April 22 to May 10

“This longstanding initiative, spanning several years, is aimed at enhancing cooperation, fostering training opportunities, and strengthening regional stability,” Padilla said. (with Priam Nepomuceno/PNA)