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Philippines will not yield ‘one square inch’ of maritime territory, Marcos says

Ferdinand Marcos Jr (Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs/WikiCommons)
March 01, 2024

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Thursday vowed to resist any effort by a foreign power to infringe upon the Philippines’ sovereignty, in a strongly worded address to the Australian Parliament amid growing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea.

Marcos, who arrived in Canberra for a two-day state visit on Wednesday, told a special joint sitting of the two chambers it was an imperative that the South China Sea be protected from actions that violated international law.

The waterway is a “critical global artery that is crucial to the preservation of regional and global peace,” said Marcos, who has taken a bolder stance than his predecessor in dealing with competing claims in the South China Sea.

China asserts sovereignty over almost all of the South China Sea, putting it at odds with the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, and Taiwan. 

“I shall never tire of repeating the declaration that I made from the first day that I took office: I will not allow any attempt by any foreign power to take even one square inch of our sovereign territory,” Marcos told Australian legislators, without naming China, according to transcripts released by his office in Manila. 

“The challenges that we face may be formidable, but equally formidable is our resolve. We will not yield,” he said.

Marcos said the Philippines and Australia must “reinforce each other’s strengths” and protect the peace the two countries fought for during World War II.

“Just as we fought to build our rules-based international order, so are we now fighting to protect it,” Marcos said. “We draw strength from the consistent and unequivocal support of Australia and the international community for the lawful exercise of our rights, which have been settled under international law.”

Before departing Manila on Wednesday, Marcos shared a report by the Philippine Coast Guard indicating that they had monitored at least three ships from China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy just near Bajo de Masinloc, the local name of Scarborough Shoal.

The shoal has been under Chinese control since 2012 after a standoff with Manila. The Philippines, under then-President Benigno Aquino III filed a case against Beijing at an international arbitration court. 

The following year, then-President Benigno Aquino III filed a case against Beijing in an international arbitration court. In 2016, the court ruled in favor of Manila and invalidated China’s sweeping claims to the South China Sea on historical grounds. Beijing has never acknowledged the ruling and has refused to leave the area. 

Aquino’s successor, Rodrigo Duterte, refused to make a move to compel Beijing. Instead, he sought to appease Beijing in exchange for promises of Chinese investments in the Philippines. This allowed Beijing to gain a firmer foothold in the region.   

Marcos has worked hard to reaffirm security ties with traditional ally the United States, as well as Australia, since taking office in June 2022.

On Wednesday, Marcos and Albanese signed new agreements on civil maritime security, marine environment protection, maritime domain awareness, and efforts to uphold international law. 

Marcos is scheduled to attend a special summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Melbourne next week.