On the first Monday of May, Foreign Minister of the Philippines, Teodoro Locsin Jr., issued tweets aimed at the government of China rife with language that could be considered vulgar. In this series of tweets released on his personal Twitter page, he implored Beijing to remove their ships from the Philippine waters in the South China Sea. The tweets began with the words, “China, my friend, how politely can I put it? Let me see…,” and after using an expletive, continued with, “What are you doing to our friendship? You. Not us. We’re trying. You. You’re like an ugly oaf forcing your attentions on a handsome guy who wants to be a friend.”
While the Philippines has in the past employed questionable diplomatic measures with other countries, the nation has usually chosen to take an approach of consistent kindness and understanding where China is concerned. However, this recent episode has forced the former to take a more direct stand. While the Foreign Minister’s tweets give a glimpse into the Philippine government’s stance on the issue, the official statement, which was less vulgar, came from the department and essentially stated that, “The unauthorized and lingering presence of these vessels is a blatant infringement of Philippine sovereignty.” Despite this, China continues to claim nearly absolute sovereignty over the entirety of the South China Sea and is keeping dozens of vessels stationed there.
In 2016, the Philippine government took China to an international arbitration court regarding a similar issue, and the court ruled in favor of the Philippines. It is unclear if that route will be traveled again. For now, the Philippines continue to file daily diplomatic protests with Beijing over the situation.
While Locsin Jr.’s tweets put into words a sentiment strongly felt by some in the Philippines, it is not shared by everyone, namely President Rodrigo Duterte. The same day the tweets were issued, Duterte, during a cabinet meeting, addressed critics who feel he is too soft on Beijing, stating, “China remains to be our benefactor, and just because we have a conflict with China does not mean to say that we have to be rude and disrespectful.” Indeed, in his almost five years as leader, Duterte has taken measures to stay in China’s good graces and keep their aid to the Philippines flowing. The week before this maritime incident ramped up, he was thanking China for providing the Philippines with doses of the Covid-19 vaccine.
If the head of the country has expressed little issue with China’s presence in the Sea, then perhaps the issue is not as incendiary as some believe it to be. It is true that if China levied any kind of attack against the Philippines, then in accordance with the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty, the U.S. would be obligated to step in. However, Duterte has stated before that so long as China does not antagonize Philippine boats and fishermen in those waters, then there is no need for any escalation into violence or war.
While the situation is still cause for a careful and watchful eye, it does not yet appear as though it is being viewed as cause for immediate concern by the countries involved and by those that could become involved were it to escalate. Offensive tweets aside, which China has not seen fit to acknowledge in any way, it appears that proper methods of diplomacy and communication are being taken. If the issue persists, then the Philippines knows it can utilize international arbitration methods. However, with the exception of one government official who voiced his opinions on a personal social media outlet, it would appear that the country’s official stance is to continue their relationship with China and work out any issues privately and peacefully.