Philippines says it wants to work with China to manage tensions in South China Sea

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The Philippines is committed to working with China to develop “confidence building measures” to manage tensions in the South China Sea after last week’s clash that seriously injured a Filipino sailor, Manila’s foreign minister said on Tuesday.

“We still believe it is the primacy of dialogue, and diplomacy should prevail even in the face of these serious incidents, though of course I admit it’s also a challenge,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo told a senate hearing.

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Whatever measures the Philippines agrees to, Manalo said, would not come at the expense of its sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction in the South China Sea.

“We are not blind to the incidents that are happening,” he added.

The foreign ministry has lodged a diplomatic protest against China’s “illegal and aggressive” actions during a routine resupply mission on June 17, which the Philippine military said severely injured a navy sailor and damaged Manila’s vessels.

China has disputed the Philippines’ account, with its foreign ministry saying the actions taken by its coast guard were necessary, lawful and beyond reproach.

Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro, who echoed President Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s statement that the country is not in the business of instigating wars, commended Filipino troops for exercising restraint and preventing the incident from escalating further.

“One shot in anger could have ignited something which, fortunately, because of the superior training of the troops, was not done, did not happen,” Teodoro told the same senate hearing.

China’s embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea with its so-called nine-dash line, which overlaps the exclusive economic zones of rival claimants Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

A 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling, which Beijing does not recognize, invalidated China’s claim in the strategic waters.

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