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South China Sea: Philippines at risk of attack if it hosts Beijing’s enemy in event of war, Cagayan governor says

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The governor of a Philippine province has suggested that China will not hesitate to attack the Philippines if Beijing becomes involved in a conflict with forces being hosted by the Southeast Asian nation.

Manuel Mamba, governor of Cagayan province, located around 600km south of Taiwan, said on Tuesday that Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Sun Weidong conveyed the warning to him in a meeting in May last year in Beijing.

“If and when we, in the Philippines, will host their enemies, they will be forced to also shoot us if and when a war breaks [out] between [China and] their enemy stationed in our country,” Mamba quoted Sun as telling him.

“They will be forced to count us as their enemy,” added the governor, who is against the presence of foreign troops in the Philippines.

Last year, Mamba opposed the use of two sites in Cagayan by US forces under a defence pact between Manila and Washington. However, the Philippine government eventually permitted their use.

Mamba shared Sun’s message at a time when the Philippines and the United States recently concluded a joint military exercise, with limited participation from other countries. The exercise took place in several areas of the country, including Cagayan and nearby Batanes province, which lies closer to Taiwan.

Tensions between Manila and Beijing have also been growing following dangerous manoeuvres and actions, including the use of water cannon by the Chinese coastguard against Philippine vessels in the South China Sea, where the two countries have overlapping territorial claims.

“For as long as we do not have foreign forces here, I think we could avoid being involved in any war,” Mamba said, noting that scrapping a military bases access agreement with the US can also end China’s bullying in the South China Sea.

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US and Philippines conduct annual Balikatan drills amid rising tensions with China

US and Philippines conduct annual Balikatan drills amid rising tensions with China

Sun also reiterated China’s preference for a bilateral approach in handling its maritime disputes with the Philippines and the need for the two countries to maintain “good neighbourliness,” said Mamba, who wants his mainly agricultural province to benefit from China’s economic growth.

“We just talk and let the diplomats do that, not the generals. When the generals start talking, it’s war. But when the diplomats are the ones talking, they always look at the brighter side and the middle ground, the grey area,” he said about the maritime disputes.

Despite Sun’s statement regarding a possible armed conflict, Mamba said he believes China will never go to war and invade any country given its economic status.

China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea were invalidated by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016. It rejects the decision even though it is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea that allows for settlement by arbitration.

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