Philippines foreign minister issues expletive-laced tweet over South China sea dispute

The Philippine Coast Guard personnel during a maritime exercise in the disputed South China sea on April 24, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MANILA (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - The Philippine foreign minister on Monday (May 3) demanded in an expletive-laced message on Twitter that China's vessels get out of disputed waters, marking the latest exchange in a war of words with Beijing over its activities in the South China Sea.

The comments by Mr Teodoro Locsin, known for making blunt remarks at times, follow Manila's protests for what it calls the "illegal" presence of hundreds of Chinese boats inside the Philippines 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

"China, my friend, how politely can I put it? Let me see… O…GET THE F*** OUT," Mr Locsin said in a tweet on his personal account.

"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; not to father a Chinese province…," Mr Locsin said.

China's foreign ministry said "megaphone diplomacy" would "undermine mutual trust" and urged Mr Locsin to conform to diplomatic etiquette.

Chinese officials have previously said the vessels at the disputed Whitsun Reef were fishing boats taking refuge from rough seas.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, through which about US$3 trillion (S$4 trillion) of ship-borne trade passes each year.

In 2016, an arbitration tribunal in The Hague ruled the claim, which Beijing bases on its old maps, was inconsistent with international law.

In a statement on Monday, the Philippine foreign ministry accused China's coast guard of "shadowing, blocking, dangerous manoeuvres, and radio challenges" on its Coast Guard that patrolled and trained last month in Scarborough Shoal - an area the South-east Asian nation says is within its territory.

China's claims over the shoal that's 124 nautical miles from the Philippines "is without basis" and Beijing has "no law enforcement rights in these areas," the department said.

The Philippines' foreign ministry said it had also protested the "incessant, illegal, prolonged, and increasing presence" of China's fishing vessels and maritime militia in its economic zones.

The latest remarks from Manila signal a further deepening of tensions with Beijing in South China Sea.

The Philippines has sent more vessels and held exercises in the contested waters, even as President Rodrigo Duterte said he won't confront China.

Beijing has said that its vessels' presence in the area is normal and legitimate.

Scarborough Shoal is within the Philippines' 200 nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, its government said, while it's approximately 472 nautical miles from the nearest coast of China.

"The Philippines calls on China to withdraw its government vessels" around the Scarborough Shoal and the Kalayaan group of islands in the Spratly Islands, the foreign department said.

As of April 26, the Philippines had filed 78 diplomatic protests to China since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016, foreign ministry data shows.

"Our statements are stronger too because of the more brazen nature of the activities, the number, frequency and proximity of intrusions," Ms Marie Yvette Banzon-Abalos, executive director for strategic communications at the foreign ministry, said.

Mr Duterte for the most part has pursued warmer ties with China in exchange for Beijing's promises of billions of dollars in investment, aid and loans.

While the Philippine leader still considers China "a good friend", he said last week: "There are things that are not really subject to a compromise."

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