South China Sea: Philippines President scraps 'agreement' with Beijing as tensions surge

South China Sea: Philippines President scraps 'agreement' with Beijing as tensions surge

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GB News
Holly Bishop

By Holly Bishop

Published: 17/04/2024

- 13:47

Updated: 17/04/2024

- 16:45

Last week, the former President of the Philippines and the Chinese government admitted to making an informal agreement

The President of the Philippines has said he is scrapping an “agreement” made with Beijing as tensions over the South China Sea surge.

The conflict stems from the Philippines-occupied Second Thomas Shoal, a submerged reef which has been claimed by many countries, including China, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

The latest escalation in tensions between Beijing and Manila came on March 23, after three Filipino sailors were injured after the Chinese coastguard used a water cannon on the Sierra Madre, a rusting ship that has been lodged on the reef for 25 years.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr has now said that he will rescind any “gentleman’s agreement” that his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, made with China over the disputed territory.

Jinping/Marcos Jr/Second Thomas Shoal

The President of the Philippines has scrapped an 'agreement' with Beijing as tensions surge over the South China Sea


Last week, both Duterte and the Chinese government admitted to making an informal agreement that barred Manila from shipping construction materials to the World War II-era ship.

Duterte said that despite the agreement, “we have not conceded anything to China,” ABS-CBN reported last week.

However, on Monday, Marcos said that the Philippines were not bound by a deal, as no document was issued to make it legal and binding.

“I’ve said that before, when this first came up a few months ago... It turns out the Chinese are insisting that there is a secret agreement, and perhaps there is, and I said, I don’t know anything about the secret agreement. Should there be such a secret agreement, I am now rescinding it,” he said at the 50th anniversary of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.


Second Thomas Shoal Many countries have claimed ownership of the Second Thomas Shoal, a submerged reef in the South China SeaGetty

He had previously said that he was “horrified” to learn about the deal and is speaking to Duterte’s team about the agreement.

“If that agreement says we need to seek permission from another country to be able to do something within our own territory, it would probably be difficult to honour that agreement,” Marcos told reporters last week.

“I am horrified by the idea that we have compromised through a secret agreement the territory, the sovereignty and the sovereign rights of the Philippines,” he added.

Last week, China insisted on the existence of the agreement made during Duterte’s tenure.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said that China had “indisputable sovereignty” over the Spratly Islands – called Nansha Qundao in Chinese – which includes the Second Thomas Shoal and the surrounding waters.

“If the Philippine side genuinely wishes to ease the situation at Renai Reef through dialogue and communication, it should prioritise good faith, adhere to agreements, abide by consensus and cease provocations,” Ning said, according to state news agency Xinhua.

She accused Manila of breaking its promises by refusing to remove the ship. “China demanded that the Philippines immediately tow away the vessel and restore Renai Reef to its original state, unstaffed and without any facilities,” she said.

Biden, Kishida and Marcos

Biden stressed his commitment to the Philippines last week


The admission of the agreement came just before Joe Biden gave a sharp warning to Beijing whilst stressing the US’ commitment to the Philippines was “ironclad”, as he hosted the first joint summit with Manila and Tokyo.

Biden, alongside Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, laid out a series of projects, from codeveloping missiles to manned moon landings, while condemning China's escalatory behaviour in the South China Sea region.

The 81-year-old said: "The United States’ defence commitments to Japan and to the Philippines are ironclad.

"Any attack on Philippine aircraft, vessels or armed forces in the South China Sea would invoke our mutual defence treaty."

Manila’s dispute with Beijing comes as China continues to claim sovereignty over most of the South China Sea.

Such a claim cuts into the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia.

Addressing recent concerns, Philippine Fleet commander Vice-Admiral Alberto Carlos said last month: “We are ready for what they are going to do.

“The troops stationed at Sierra Madre are prepared for the worst-case scenario.

“We are studying all options. It’s unacceptable if we are going to stop the resupply mission.”

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