Opinion / Wang Hui

Manila should stop playing with fire

By Wang Hui (China Daily) Updated: 2015-04-23 07:52

Manila should stop playing with fire

A Chinese Coast Guard vessel (R) passes near the Chinese oil rig, Haiyang Shi You 981 (L) in the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) from the coast of Vietnam in this June 13, 2014 file photo. [Photo/Agencies]

The United States and the Philippines started their largest annual combat readiness exercise on Monday. This blatant show of force will heighten tensions in the South China Sea and thwart regional efforts to resolve the maritime disputes through peaceful means.

The "Balikatan", or shoulder-to-shoulder, war games involve some 11,500 military personnel along with more than 90 aircraft and ships from the two countries. With the venue of some of the war games being in the waters near the disputed areas of the South China Sea, how can one believe that the exercise is not directed at China.

To justify their saber-rattling near the disputed waters and mislead public opinion, high-ranking Philippine officials have been questioning China's reclamation projects in some reefs in the waters.

On Monday, just before the military exercise began, Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr, Philippine military chief, held a news conference to release surveillance photographs of the projects and alleged that China's actions increase the risk of an accidental confrontation. On the same day, Philippine President Benigno Aquino said he would ask leaders of Southeast Asian countries to issue a joint statement denouncing China's reclamation in the disputed waters.

But the Philippine officials should reflect on their own actions in the South China Sea before accusing China of wrongdoings. The Philippines started seizing Chinese islands and islets in the waters in the 1970s, and to consolidate its illegal occupation, it built various facilities on the maritime territories. In fact, Manila is still carrying out construction work on four of the occupied islands and islets.

China has made it clear that it has full sovereign powers to do construction and maintenance work on some of the islands and reefs in the Nansha Islands. That work is only intended to improve the working and living conditions of its personnel stationed on those islands.

Manila has time and again resorted to the old trick of crying wolf. In the South China Sea disputes, Manila presents itself as a victim and vilifies Beijing as a big bully.

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