EU leader cites Russia's invasion of Ukraine to warn vs China's aggression in Asia

MANILA. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (right) walks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (left) during the arrival ceremony at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, Philippines, Monday, July 31, 2023. (AP)
MANILA. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (right) walks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (left) during the arrival ceremony at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, Philippines, Monday, July 31, 2023. (AP)

THE leader of the European Union's executive commission cited Russia's invasion of Ukraine to warn against China’s increasingly assertive actions in disputed Indo-Pacific waters and against Taiwan and said Monday, July 31, 2023, that the EU would not tolerate aggression in either region.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke at a joint news conference with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. after holding talks in Manila that aimed to bolster trade, economic and security relations.

The leaders announced the 27-nation bloc would resume negotiations with the Philippines on a free trade agreement that stalled in 2017 under Marcos’s predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte.

Von der Leyen also stressed the need for security cooperation, saying Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine showed how authoritarian leaders “are willing to act on their threats.”

“Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine shakes the foundation of the international order. It is in violation of the UN charter and the fundamental principles of international law, such as territorial integrity and sovereignty,” she said.

“This is why Europe supports Ukraine’s brave fight against the aggressor, because the illegal use of force cannot be tolerated, not in Ukraine, not in the Indo-Pacific,” von der Leyen said. “Security in Europe and security in the Indo-Pacific is indivisible. Challenges to the rules-based order in our interconnected world affect all of us.”

“This is why we are concerned about the rising tensions in the Indo-Pacific,” she said, adding that the EU backs a free and open Indo-Pacific “because an Indo-Pacific free of the threats of coercion is key to all our stability to our peace, and to the prosperity of our people."

Without naming China, von der Leyen reaffirmed the EU’s recognition of a decision by a UN-backed tribunal that invalidated China’s territorial claims in virtually the entire South China Sea on historical grounds. China has rejected the arbitration decision as a sham and continues to defy it.

Von der Leyen’s visit to the Philippines is a sign of improving ties after a stormy period between the EU and Duterte over human rights. It’s the first such top-level visit in nearly six decades of Europe-Philippines relations.

The EU leader later spoke more bluntly against China at a business forum in Manila, where she warned that Beijing’s increasingly aggressive actions in Asia “could also have global repercussions.”

She criticized China's stance on the war in Ukraine, its increasingly aggressive actions in disputed Asian waters and its provocative moves against Taiwan.

“China’s show of military force in the South and East China seas and in the Taiwan Strait directly affects Philippines and other partners in the region," the EU leader said. “But it could also have global repercussions because any weakening of regional stability in Asia...affects global security, the free flow of trade and our own interests in the region."

Beijing has turned seven disputed reefs into missile-protected island bases in the last decade, further alarming Western governments and rival claimants, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

China's fleet of coast guard ships and swarms of militia boats have warned vessels from rival claimant states and the U.S. military and its allies not to stray into its claimed territories in the disputed waters, which straddle one of the world's busiest sea lanes and are believed to be sitting atop undersea deposits of oil and gas.

Von der Leyen urged Asian nations never to rely on a single supplier for energy and raw materials, citing how “Russia tried to blackmail us” by considerably cutting its natural gas supply to European countries after the EU imposed sanctions against Moscow over the invasion of Ukraine.

"We could not choose our neighbors, but we can choose who to do business with and on what terms,” she said. “We made a mistake with Russia.”

The Philippines, she said, exports 90 percent of its nickel ore to China “instead of processing it inside the country to create more jobs and added value,” she said. “But this can change.”

There was no immediate reaction from China to von der Leyen's remarks. China has warned the United States and its allies from meddling in what it says is a purely Asian dispute.

The Philippines came under intense EU criticism during Duterte’s six-year term, mainly because of the bloody anti-drugs crackdown he oversaw that left more than 6,000 mostly petty suspects dead. Marcos succeeded Duterte in June 2022.

The killings sparked an International Criminal Court investigation as a possible crime against humanity. Duterte withdrew the Philippines from the ICC in 2018, but its prosecutor has proceeded to investigate the widespread deaths that occurred in the years when the country was still part of The Hague-based court.

Duterte often lashed at EU criticism of the brutal anti-drugs crackdown with profanity-laced outbursts.

Marcos and von der Leyen said relations between the EU and the Philippines were entering a new era.

We “are like-minded partners through our shared values of democracy, sustainable and inclusive prosperity, the rule of law, peace and stability, and human rights,” Marcos said, comments that reflected a stark departure from Duterte's hostile rhetoric against the EU. (AP)

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