Philippines slams Chinese diplomats for spreading disinformation 

On May 10, Philippines’ national security adviser Eduardo M Año and coast guard spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea, Commodore Jay Tarriela, urged the Department of Foreign Affairs “to take appropriate actions against individuals in the Chinese Embassy who claim to have recorded an alleged phone conversation between a Chinese diplomat and a military official” as well as for “serious breaches of diplomatic protocols and conventions.”

In early May, Chinese officials in the embassy in Manila alleged there was an audio recording of a January 3 phone call with a Filipino military officer regarding an agreement in the countries’ dispute over territory in the South China Sea. The Chinese embassy gave a purported transcript to Filipino media outlets, reportedly showing there was an agreement of a new model for handling notifications of resupply missions to the Second Thomas Shoal, known locally as Ayungin Shoal.

China insists on sovereignty over almost all of the South China Sea, and has rejected a 2016 international arbitration ruling which stated it has no legal basis for the expansive claims. In recent months, there were numerous confrontations between Filipino boats and Chinese Coast Guard and militia fishing vessels. Increasingly, Chinese coast guard vessels were using water cannons against Filipino boats trying to supply food and water to soldiers living onboard the stranded old navy ship, BRP Sierra Madre, at the Second Thomas Shoal. 

Año’s said in a statement, “The Chinese Embassy’s repeated acts of engaging in and dissemination of disinformation, misinformation, and malinformation – now releasing spurious transcripts or recordings of purported conversations between officials of the host country – should not be allowed to pass unsanctioned or without serious penalty.”

Importantly, Año clarified that no one in the Philippine government, except for the president, has the authority to be involved in such an agreement with another country. 

“We emphasize that the unmistakable objective of the PRC embassy in its indiscriminate releasing of these falsehoods and smears have been, and continues to be, to sow discord, division, and disunity between and among the Filipino people,” he said.

Año added that the alleged Chinese leaks breached Philippine laws and constituted “serious breaches of diplomatic protocols and conventions”, referring to the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations that lays out a framework for diplomatic ties between countries. 

In response to Año, spokesman Lin Jian, China’s Foreign Ministry, during a press briefing, said: “The Philippines’ response shows exactly their guilty conscience in the face of facts and evidence and how exasperated and desperate they have become.

“We ask the Philippines to ensure that Chinese diplomats can carry out their duty normally, and to stop provocations and infringements. 

“The Philippines needs to quit denying the facts and must not make reckless moves that will only backfire on the Philippines itself.”

Secretary of National Defense Gilberto Teodoro on May 5 debunked allegations made in the Chinese-leaked audio recordings as misinformation.

“I would like to clearly state that any insinuation that the Department of National Defense is a party to any ‘new model’ is a devious machination of China through their Embassy in Manila, and it is curious that it comes right after their actions were condemned in the recent SQUAD meeting … This charade must stop,” Teodoro posited in a statement.

SQUAD refers to the U.S, Japan, Australia and Philippines, of which their defense chiefs had a joint meeting on May 2, vowing to strengthen alliance among the four countries.

Teodoro added: “I am issuing this statement to generate awareness of this clear attempt by China to advance another falsehood in order to divide our people and distract us from their unlawful presence and actions in our EEZ (exclusive economic zone).

“We advise our citizens, the media, and the international community to beware of China’s methods of manipulations, interference, and malign influence in furthering its own interests.”

Tarriela, from Philippine Coast Guard, exhorted Filipinos to “not be swayed by the lies” from the Chinese side alleging to have potential agreements. “It is critical for our country to stand united and not be divided in addressing this issue. We must work together to halt China’s ambitious goal of taking control of the entire West Philippine Sea.”

On May 13, the Philippines announced, in a statement, an official probe into the Chinese embassy’ leaks of the alleged audio recording to propagate a disinformation campaign.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs will look into any reports of illegal and unlawful activities by diplomatic officials, and undertake necessary action in line with existing laws and regulations.” 

The statement stated that although foreign diplomats are “accorded necessary liberties” to go about their duties, they are expected to conduct themselves “with the highest standards of integrity” and professionalism.

Photo credit: iStock/ asiandelight 

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