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EU's Top Politician Promises Aid for Philippines' Maritime Security

EC President Ursula Von der Leyen (center right) with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. (European Commission)
EC President Ursula Von der Leyen (center right) with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. (European Commission)

Published Jul 31, 2023 9:21 PM by The Maritime Executive

During a long-awaited visit to Manila on Monday,  EU Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen pledged new aid for the Philippine Coast Guard, the nation's maritime security, and the legitimacy of its maritime rights in the South China Sea. She also had harsh words for China, which claims the majority of the South China Sea as its own and has occupied multiple islands in the Spratly chain. 

In a statement to the press on Monday, Von der Leyen pledged that the EU would boost the Philippines' maritime security capabilities by “sharing information, conducting threat assessment, and building the capacity of . . . the Coast Guard.” In this commitment, the EU joins the assistance efforts of the United States, which has provided equipment and training for the PCG for years. The aid is squarely aimed at countering China's assertiveness in the Spratly Islands, where the China Coast Guard routinely attempts to interfere with PCG convoys and ordinary Filipino fishermen. 

Von der Leyen also endorsed a key element of the Philippines' claim to its own waters. The Philippines won a judgment against China's sweeping maritime claims in 2016, when the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled that China had no legal basis for asserting ownership over waters located hundreds of miles from its shores. China has never acknowledged the validity of the ruling. “The European Union underlines that the 2016 award of the arbitral tribunal on the South China Sea is legally binding and that it provides the basis for peaceful resolving disputes between the parties,” Von der Leyen said. 

She also stated - in strong terms - the EU's reservations about Chinese foreign policy, both in Europe and in Southeast Asia. She warned of "global repercussions" for China's displays of military might around Taiwan and in the South China Sea, and she called on Beijing to "assume fully its responsibility under the U.N. Charter to uphold the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

While geopolitics took center stage, much of the working visit centered on trade ties. The EU is the Philippines' fourth-largest trading partner, and Von der Leyen pitched European business as a better alternative to certain other large economies. “Unlike other foreign investors, we do not want to invest only in the extraction of raw materials. We can also support you in building local capacity for processing," she said. “We cannot choose our neighbors, but we can choose who we do business with, and on what terms."