China warns Philippines against 'playing with fire'

China warns Philippines against 'playing with fire'

China's warning came after Philippine defence minister has ordered increase in troops on Batanes, less than 200km from Taiwan

A Philippine supply boat sails near a Chinese Coast Guard ship during a resupply mission for Filipino troops stationed at a grounded warship in the South China Sea, on Oct 4, 2023. (Photo: Reuters)
A Philippine supply boat sails near a Chinese Coast Guard ship during a resupply mission for Filipino troops stationed at a grounded warship in the South China Sea, on Oct 4, 2023. (Photo: Reuters)

BEIJING - China has warned the Philippines against "playing with fire" amid reports that Manila plans to bolster its military deployment on strategically important islands it controls near Taiwan.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Thursday reiterated Beijing's position that Taiwan was "at the centre of China's core interests and represents an insurmountable red line and bottom line".

Beijing's stern words stemmed from news that Philippine defence minister Gilberto Teodoro had ordered an increase in troops and construction on Batanes, the island country's northernmost province, less than 200 kilometres (124 miles) from Taiwan.

"The Philippine side should have a clear understanding of it, act prudently and refrain from playing with fire on the issue of Taiwan, so as to avoid being exploited by others and leading to their own detriment," Wang said in Beijing.

Anti-landing barricades are seen on the beach with China's Xiamen in the background in Kinmen, Taiwan, on Dec 18, 2023. (Photo: Reuters)

China and the Philippines shared a long history of friendship, he said, adding that good neighbours should treat each other with mutual respect on issues like national sovereignty and territorial integrity and not interfere in each other's internal affairs.

Beijing sees Taiwan as part of China to be reunited by force if necessary. A number of countries, including the Philippines and the United States, do not recognise Taiwan as an independent state.

However, the United States is opposed to any attempt to take the self-governed island by force and is committed to supplying it with weapons.

Washington keeps close ties with and provides arms to the self-ruled island for its defence and has increased its support in recent years as friction has mounted across the Taiwan Strait.

The Philippines, neighbouring Taiwan across the Bashi Channel, is a treaty ally of the US and has for years clashed with Beijing over competing claims in the South China Sea.

Last year, amid escalated tensions and frayed relations with Beijing, Manila doubled the number of its military bases that US forces can access, including three facing Taiwan.

Teodoro's remarks on boosting the Philippines' military presence on the Batanes islands coincided with his visit to the remote province to inspect naval facilities there. The islands are strategically located at a waterway choke point connecting the western Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea.

Batanes is the "spearhead of the Philippines as far as the northern baseline is concerned", said Teodoro.

And his visit "signifies a pivotal moment in our nation's commitment to territorial defence and national security", according to a Philippine navy statement.

The Chinese navy regularly transits the Bashi Channel in sailing to and from the western Pacific, especially during its frequent patrol missions around Taiwan.

The US military was also reportedly in discussions with the Philippines to develop a civilian port on the Batanes islands.

Last November, during their largest-ever joint naval exercise, the Philippines and the US used the Batanes as a training site and launch point to conduct sea patrols.

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