Business groups make rare statement amid South China Sea tensions

June 21, 2024 - 6:31 PM
Panatag Shoal
A Philippine fishing boat is shadowed by the Chinese Coast Guard near Panatag or Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea on September 2023 (The STAR/Michael Varcas)

 Philippine business groups said on Friday they deplored the harassment of the country’s military, in comments that come after a recent clash between navy personnel and the Chinese coast guard in the disputed South China Sea.

“We appeal for unity towards a non-violent resolution that respects our rights as a peace-loving nation,” the business groups said in a rare joint statement, which did not mention China by name.

The group, composed of 17 business organizations including the Makati Business Club and the Management Association of the Philippines, also urged the government to “pursue with utmost urgency” measures to transform the country’s military and coastguard into a modern self-reliant force.

“We deplore the continued harassment of the AFP, the PCG, and most of all, our people who are just trying to earn their livelihood,” it said referring to the acronyms of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine Coast Guard.

The Philippine foreign ministry has denounced as “illegal and aggressive” China’s actions during a routine resupply mission on Monday to a disputed atoll, which the Philippine military said severely injured a navy sailor and damaged vessels.

But China’s foreign ministry disputed this, with a spokesperson saying that the necessary measures taken were lawful, professional and beyond reproach.

The Second Thomas Shoal lies inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, and the Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea as its own, infuriating neighboring countries. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 found China’s sweeping claims have no legal basis, a ruling Beijing rejects.

China’s embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the business group’s statement.

Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales, Mikhail Flores and Karen Lema;Editing by Ed Davies