AN AERIAL VIEW of the BRP Sierra Madre at the contested Second Thomas Shoal on March 9, 2023. — REUTERS

By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

THE NETHERLANDS plans to send one of its warships to patrol the South China Sea with the Philippines, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs said on Monday, amid worsening tensions between Manila and Beijing.

“We are planning to send a Dutch frigate in 2024 to the South China Sea to do its duty over there,” Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Hanke Gerdina Johannette Bruins Slot told a news briefing near Manila, the Philippine capital.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately reply to an e-mail seeking comment.

“But we haven’t decided which ports it will embark on, but that’s part of the planning,” she added.

The Dutch foreign minister’s visit to the Philippines is the first in more than 30 years.

“Any expression of support from the international community, in this case the Dutch, strengthens Philippine position in the West Philippine Sea,” Jan Robert R. Go, an associate professor of political science at the University of the Philippines, said in a Facebook Messenger chat, referring to areas of the South China Sea within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

“Any additional support in the form of joint patrols would also augment our admittedly lacking capacity. However, this may also create greater anxiety on the part of the Chinese, especially if those Dutch vessels are militarily equipped,” he added.

He cited the need for caution to stop escalating tensions. “The last thing we want is a violent confrontation and China may not hesitate in responding once challenged.”

The Philippines would eye more joint patrols and freedom of navigation missions in the South China Sea after collisions with Chinese ships at Second Tomas Shoal, Jonathan M. Malaya, assistant director general of the National Security Council, said last week.
On Oct. 23, the country filed a diplomatic protest against China and summoned its envoy in Manila after the Oct. 22 collisions.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila said it had lodged stern representations to the Philippines over the “trespassing” of the Philippine vessels at Second Thomas Shoal.

China Coast Guard vessel 5203 collided with an Armed Forces of the Philippines-contracted indigenous resupply boat 13.5 nautical miles (25 kilometers) east-northeast of BRP Sierra Madre, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea said on Oct. 22.

A Chinese maritime militia vessel had also bumped a Philippine Coast Guard patrol vessel that was escorting the resupply mission about 6.4 nautical miles northeast of the shoal, it said.

“Both our countries are committed to upholding the international law of the sea, that’s why we will work jointly to build capacity concerning the content and relevance of the law of the sea,” Ms. Bruins Slot said.

“The Netherlands stands with the Philippines in the full observance of international law in the South China Sea,” she added, reiterating the Netherlands’ support for a 2016 arbitral ruling by a United Nations-backed tribunal in the Hague that voided China’s claim to more than 80% of the waterway.

The court ruled China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone by building artificial islands and failing to prevent its citizens from fishing in the zone.

China has ignored the ruling. Aside from the Philippines and China, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the waterway.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique A. Manalo told the same briefing the countries would also cooperate in increasing trade and investments, enhancing cyber-security and addressing the online exploitation of children.
“The Philippines and the Netherlands share the same unflinching commitment to the rules-based international order,” he said.  “The bilateral relations [have] always been anchored by our collaboration at sea, due to our common heritage as maritime nations.”

The Philippines’ top envoy said the two countries brought up ensuring the safety and security of more than 22,000 Filipino seafarers working in Dutch-owned and Dutch-flagged vessels around the world.

Ms. Bruins Slot said the Netherlands and the Philippines would explore investment deals with Dutch companies involved in agriculture and water management.

The Philippines and the Netherlands had also discussed the war between Israel and the Islamist Hamas militant group, she said, citing a need to pursue humanitarian solutions to the conflict.

Meanwhile, Philippine Ambassador to the Netherlands Jose Eduardo E. Malaya told reporters on the sidelines of the briefing the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry would also cooperate with the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs on business-to-business engagements.

“Both sides expressed a commitment to enhance economic engagements and they saw enormous potential here in the Philippines,” he said.

The ambassador cited the collaboration between San Miguel Corp. and Dutch company Royal Boskalis Westminster N.V., which is handling land development work for the New Manila International Airport project in Bulacan through its local unit Boskalis Philippines, Inc.

The P740-billion airport project started construction in 2021 and is expected to be completed by the end of next year.

“It is my hope that we take our relations to new heights in the decades to come and broaden the scope of our cooperation for the mutual benefit of our two nations and peoples,” Mr. Manalo said.