The West’s failure to confront China over its increasingly vocal territorial ambitions is similar to the disastrous appeasement of Adolf Hitler in the late 1930s, the Philippine president has claimed.
China’s state news agency has branded Philippine President Benigno Aquino a “disgrace” for his comments warning the world not to appease China like Europe once appeased Nazi Germany.
Aquino told the New York Times that the world must learn a lesson from 1938, when the UK and France allowed Hitler his claims to Czech territory.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, angrily reacted to the remarks, saying it was the Philippines that was illegally occupying Chinese islands in the South China Sea.
‘Talking about China and the Philippines’ South China Sea dispute in the same breath as World War II is outrageous and totally unreasonable. China is extremely dissatisfied with what the Philippines said,’ Hong told a news briefing in Beijing.
China claims parts of the South China Sea which the Philippines disputes.
The spat is the latest in a war of words between China and its neighbors.
Mr Aquino called on the world to do more to support his country against China’s claims to its nearby seas.
“At what point do you say: ‘Enough is enough’? Well, the world has to say it. Remember that the Sudetenland was given in an attempt to appease Hitler to prevent World War II,” Mr Aquino said.
The Sudetenland was part of what was then called Czechoslovakia before the UK and France agreed to allow Hitler to take it.
The comments quickly drew the ire of China’s official state news agency Xinhua, which published an article calling Mr Aquino “ignorant.”
The remarks “exposed his true colours as an amateurish politician, who was ignorant both of history and reality”, the article said.
The Philippines is one of several Asian countries – including Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia – that is locked into acrimonious territorial disputes with Beijing.
Manila disputes the sovereignty of a series of shoals, islands including the Spratly Islands and the Scarborough Shoal, which lie off the coast of the Philippines.in an area it calls the West Philippine Sea and Beijing calls the South China Sea.
Meanwhile, the long-running dispute between Japan and China over the sovereignty of the group of the uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, which are known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan, exploded again last November after China declared a controversial “air defense identification zone” that included the skies over that area.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe caused controversy at the economic forum in Davos last month, when he said that China and Japan were “in a similar situation” to Germany and Britain just before the outbreak of World War I.
He said that strong trade ties did not in themselves preclude the outbreak of war.
Mr Abe went on to criticize China’s annual double-digit increase in military spending, saying it was a major source of instability in the region.
In response, Xinhua referred to Mr Abe as the “disgraced Japanese prime minister.”
Chinese government officials have also strongly condemned a recent report that Beijing was considering setting up a new air defense zone in the South China Sea, similar to the one it announced last year for the East China Sea.
Hong also said Washington needed to be more responsible and stop spreading rumors put about by ‘right-wing Japanese forces.’
Senior Chinese officials have repeatedly called on Washington not to take sides over the issue.
China urged the U.S. to stay out of Beijing’s territorial spat with the Philippines, hitting back at an American admiral’s pledge of U.S. assistance to Manila in the event of Chinese military aggression.
The festering dispute between China and the Philippines over parts of the South China Sea is increasingly becoming an issue between Beijing and Washington, which has a treaty alliance with Manila.
“I would like to point out that the U.S. is not a party concerned in the dispute in the South China Sea,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular press briefing last Friday. “It should honor its commitment of taking no sides on the territorial-sovereignty issue in the South China Sea, be discreet in words and action and do more for the peace and stability in the region rather than the opposite.”
Visiting the National Defense College in Manila on Thursday, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the U.S. Navy’s chief of operations, was asked whether the U.S. would fight alongside the Philippines in the event of a Chinese attack. “Of course, we would help you,” he said.
While China has expanded its navy greatly in recent years, adding new battleships, submarines and an aircraft carrier, the Philippines fields a ragtag force composed of a handful of World War II-era patrol boats and a pair of decommissioned U.S. Coast Guard cutters.
The comments come as Secretary of State John Kerry visits Beijing with an agenda that includes voicing U.S. concerns over China’s territorial disputes with the Philippines and with Japan. He’s also expected to appeal for Chinese help in reigning in North Korea.
The White House announced this week that U.S. President Barack Obama would visit Manila in April in what some in the Philippines have described as an important show of support in the dispute with China.