Philippines Reacts to China Releasing Transcript of “New Model” Discussion with WESCOM Commander

On May 8th, the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines released a transcript from an alleged phone call between Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Command (WESCOM) Commanding General (CG), Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, and an unnamed Chinese diplomat. The call between Carlos and the diplomat allegedly occurred on January 4th, 2024. The transcript described Carlos as saying the “Philippine side” agreed to the “new model” regarding resupply missions to Second Thomas Shoal (STS). The transcript comes after China’s Embassy in Manila released several statements related to the “new model” and “gentlemen’s agreement” since March 2024.

Phone Call Transcript

A ranking Chinese embassy official released the transcript and an audio recording to select Philippine news outlets, such as the Manila Times. Other Philippine independent reporters, such as Rigoberto Tiglao, also referenced or used the transcripts in articles or opinion pieces. The transcript contained details about a phone call between Carlos and the Chinese diplomat in January 2024 about the proposed plan for the STS. The diplomat said that he was “very happy to explore a new way of interaction for our frontliners with regard to the resupply mission of Ren’ai Jiao or Ayungin Shoal [STS].” Furthermore, the diplomat also said they instructed the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines, Huang Xilian, to re-examine the points before they “report back to Beijing.” The Chinese presentative then said he understood that the Philippines now proposes that both sides deploy one plus one vessels for the resupply missions.

Transcript of January 2024 phone call between Chinese diplomat and WESCOM CG Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos (Photo: The Manila Times)

They then explained that for the PH side, you most likely will use one Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessel and one civilian vessel, possibly Unaizah May 1 or Calayan.” Carlos then confirmed the details of the proposal and agreed that both sides wanted “to deescalate tensions in Ayungin Shoal [STS].” Furthermore, he also confirmed the Philippine side’s and his boss’s agreement with the proposal. The diplomat said that as part of the proposal, the PCG and civilian vessels will only transport food, water, and humanitarian supplies to the shoal, and the Philippines will also notify China two days before the mission occurs. Furthermore, the Chinese representative also confirmed that Secretary of National Defense Gilberto Teodoro Jr., Philippine National Security Adviser (NSA) Eduardo Ano, and AFP Chief of Staff General Romeo Brawner Jr. agreed to the proposal. However, the transcript had one name redacted, likely Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Philippines Response 

The Philippines responded to the release of the transcripts by issuing statements from the Department of National Defense (DND), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and the National Security Council (NSC). The statements began on May 5th, after China’s Embassy in the Philippines reiterated the existence of the “new model” for STS resupply missions. The DFA released a statement saying they were “not aware of any ‘new model’ arrangement being referred to by the Chinese Embassy with regard to Ayungin Shoal [STS].” Furthermore, the department reiterated “its firm position” that the country never entered into any agreement, abandoning its sovereignty and jurisdiction over its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf, which also includes the shoal.

May 4th statement from the Chinese Embassy in Manila about the “new model” for resupply missions to Second Thomas Shoal

The statement also said that if any agreement were made, then it would only be authorized “at the highest level of government.” The DFA also used the statement to point out that the National Defense Secretary and the NSA are also denying that any “informal arrangements on Ayungin Shoal [STS]” exist, which should show the “untruthfulness of China’s narrative.” The statement also highlighted that the Philippines is “seeking ways to reduce tensions with China through established diplomatic channels.” The DFA urged China to “favorably consider the standing Philippine invitation to convene the next meeting of the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea [SCS] if it was “serious about properly managing the differences at sea.”

Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs statement dispelling Chinese Embassy’s statement about ‘new model’ (Photo: X, @DFAPHL)

The DND issued a statement by Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., where he denied that the department was a party to any ‘new model’ and that it was “a devious machination of China through their Embassy in Manila.” Teodoro also pointed out that the Chinese Embassy issued the statement after Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and the United States collectively condemned China’s actions at the recent SQUAD meeting in Hawaii. The statement also pointed out that Teodoro prohibited any contact between the DND and the embassy since he and Huang held a courtesy call in July 2023. Teodoro also pointed out that he or Huang did not discuss or receive a briefing on any ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ or ‘new model,’ “which is contrary to the Chinese Embassy’s pronouncements.” He then urged China to stop the charade and urged Philippine citizens, the international community, and the media to “beware of China’s methods of manipulation, interference, and malign influence in furthering its own interests.”

Philippine Department of National Defense statement about Chinese Embassy releasing details about ‘new model’ (Photo: X, @DNDPHL)

The NSC released a statement that said the “Chinese Embassy’s claim of a ‘new model’ or ‘common understanding’ is absolutely absurd, ludicrous, and preposterous.” Ano also said that he has never directly or indirectly contacted any official from the Chinese Embassy on any matter, including any arrangements for STS resupply missions, since the courtesy call between him and Huang “last year.” He also reiterated that the Philippine President never authorized any entity or individual in the Philippine government to agree to “any agreement, arrangement, or understanding.” Furthermore, the adviser said the officials would not “entertain proposals principally premised or grounded on the illegal, debunked, and fabricated 9 or 10 dash line.” The statement also said that the embassy can never deceive the “Filipino people with your fabricated stories, bluffs, and fake exchanges of communication just to support your illegal claim of Philippine territory.”

Philippines National Security Council statement about Chinese Embassy’s statement about ‘new model’ (Photo: X, @jaytaryela)

Furthermore, the statement said China uses its fabricated narratives to justify its “illegal, coercive, aggressive, and deceptive actions, particularly the use of military-grade lasers, water cannons, dangerous blocking maneuvers, and ramming” of Philippine vessels that caused casualties. Ano even pointed out that the Chinese Embassy “went to the extent of creating a chat group with select members of the media to manipulate the information environment.” The embassy uses the chat group to post “leading questions” that they then answer, which gives them opportunities to “publish their corrosive narratives and scripted stories.” Ano also pointed out that the story distracts from China creating a “high tide man-made geologic feature between Thitu Island and Subi Reef” by dumping coral rubble on three cays near the island. The statement said the likely aim of the land reclamation is “an attempt to reverse the findings of the 2016 Arbitral Award.”

Statement from the Armed Forces of the Philippines about the release of the transcript of alleged phone call about the “new model” (Photo: X, @TeamAFP)

The AFP, the DFA, and the NSC also released statements after the embassy released the transcripts and audio recording of the phone call. The AFP released a statement from General Brawner Jr. on May 8th that dismissed the transcript. Brawner said that the AFP “will not dignify the claim of the Chinese Embassy in Manila that our organization has agreed to a ‘new model’ for conduct in the Ayungin Shoal [STS].” He also said the alleged audio recording between Carlos and a Chinese diplomat “does not merit significant concern as it appears to be a malign influence effort from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).” The statement also pointed out that transcripts “can easily be fabricated, and audio recordings can be manufactured by using deep fakes,” which aims to distract from China’s aggressive actions in the SCS. The AFP Spokesperson, Colonel Francel Margareth Padilla, spoke about why Carlos took leave after the Chinese Embassy released details about the phone call on May 7th. Padilla said Carlos filed for leave due to “personal reasons,” and that the timing was coincidental.

Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs statement about alleged recording released on May 9th (Photo: X, @DFAPHL)

The DFA released a statement on May 9th that also denied the conversation between the WESCOM CG and a Chinese diplomat about the “new model” for the STS. However, the DFA cautioned individuals against falling for false narratives. China “resorting to tactics such as releasing unverifiable recordings of supposed conversations with Philippine officials could demonstrate efforts to sow discord and confusion among Philippine agencies and the Filipino public.” The statement also urged diplomats to “strictly adhere to the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations,” specifically Article 41.

Philippine National Security Council statement calling for the Philippines to remove the embassy staff responsible for recording the phone conversation (X, @TristanNodalo)

The NSC also released a statement on May 10th, in which the agency also joined the Secretary of National Defense in calling for the DFA to “take appropriate actions against individuals in the Chinese Embassy who claim to have recorded an alleged phone conversation” between Carlos and a Chinese diplomat. They highlighted that the individuals violated Philippine laws, particularly the Anti-Wire Tapping Act, and committed “serious breaches of diplomatic conventions and protocols.” It also highlighted the embassy’s repeated acts of engaging in and disseminating “disinformation, misinformation, and malinformation.”

Furthermore, the DFA said the release of spurious transcripts or recordings of alleged conversations between host country officials and diplomatic staff should not be allowed to pass unsanctioned or without serious penalty. The statement also emphasized that the Chinese Embassy’s “unmistakable objective” is to sow discord, disunity, and division among the Filipino people by indiscriminately releasing these falsehoods and smears. The statement said that “bypassing official and long established channels and protocols, talking to officials without the requisite authorities or bona fides,” then claiming that the Philippines should be bound by alleged discussions, “is farcical, foolish, and reckless.”

China’s Response

China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry (FAM) released two statements about the Philippines’ response to the “new model,” the transcripts and audio. On May 6th, FAM Spokesperson Lin Jian released a statement to a question asked by a reporter from CCTV about the statements issued by the Philippines regarding the “new model” for STS. Lin said that China “has always been committed to controlling maritime disputes, including Renai Jiao [STS] issues with the Philippines, through dialogue and consultation.” Furthermore, Lin also pointed out that China’s efforts and sincerity are reflected in the “gentlemen’s agreement, the internal understanding, or the new model.” The spokesperson said he wanted to clarify the “basic facts again.” He then explained the three agreements made between China and the Philippines. The first point was the alleged gentlemen’s agreement that former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte made with Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the end of 2021. Lin also said that both China and the Philippines abided by the agreement “until February 2023 when the Philippines ceased to comply.”

May 6th statement made by Chinese Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Lin Jian about “new model” at Second Thomas Shoal

In September 2023, the Philippines and China’s Special Envoys agreed to an internal understanding for the control and management of resupply missions to the STS. Lin said that the Philippines approved and implemented the mechanisms governing the resupply missions, but the country later abandoned the agreement. The final point that Lin explained was the “new model” that the WESCOM commander and the Chinese diplomat allegedly agreed to in January 2024. Lin highlighted that “the Philippine military has repeatedly confirmed the approval of the ‘new model’ by the entire chain of command, including the chief of defense and national security adviser.” Lin then said that the statements the Philippines released “cannot deny the objective facts that China and the Philippines have reached the gentlemen’s agreement, internal understanding, and the new model.”

Lin also issued a statement on May 10th when a Reuters reporter asked him what the China’s response to the Philippines’ call for the “expulsion of Chinese diplomats who spread false information.” Lin said that the “relevant statements of the Philippines just prove that they are guilty in light of the evidence.” Furthermore, Lin also pointed out that the Philippines “have reached the point of being anxious and facing ruin without a bottom line.” The spokesperson then said that the Philippines should allow Chinese diplomats to “perform their duties normally, do not deny the facts, do not act rashly, and do not ‘life stones and hit their feet’ [look for trouble].”

Analysis

The transcript and recorded audio of the alleged call are likely sophisticated deepfakes due to several indicators. The transcript contains pieces of information that likely do not fit into the time period when the alleged call took place. The diplomat’s mentioning the Kalayaan in the transcript and not the Unaizah Mae (UM) 4 indicates that the transcript is a deepfake. The Kalayaan municipality owns the vessel that the PCG used for the December 2023 resupply mission since the Unaizah Mae (UM) 1 required repairs. However, the Kalayaan also sustained significant damage to its engine room during the mission and underwent repairs, after which the PCG returned it to the municipality. China likely knew that the PCG planned to temporarily use the Kalayaan and that UM 1 and UM 4 were the vessels regularly used for the missions.

The mention of the Kalayaan indicates that China only submitted information from the January timeframe to a generative Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) program to create the transcript. The transcript’s use of Ayungin Shoal and Teodoro’s nickname Gibo is another indicator that China used a generative A.I. program to create the transcript. The Chinese diplomat’s use of Ayungin Shoal in most of the transcript instead of Renai Jiao points to a program using Philippine newspapers to develop the transcript. Chinese officials and ministries will always use Renai Jiao in their official statements and other communications with Philippine officials. Furthermore, if China does use the Philippine names for the SCS features, then they would do so in a disparaging or dismissive manner.

The use of Teodoro’s nickname is also another indication that the transcript is a deepfake. The inclusion of his nickname was likely due to the software using Philippine sources to create the transcript. Furthermore, the software likely used Marcos’ nickname, Bongbong, during the writing of the transcript, which would explain why the embassy redacted the name. The repetition of certain words throughout the transcript is another indicator that it is a deepfake. For example, the word ‘proposal’ appears five times throughout the transcript and multiple times in one section. Another indicator is that the transcript lacks depth, which indicates the diplomat does not understand the issues surrounding the shoal. Furthermore, the transcript also contains talking points that China uses to push its current narrative regarding the STS. For example, the transcript mentioned that the resupply missions will only carry food and humanitarian supplies, and the Philippines will contact China two days before each mission. China uses these points in its narrative regarding the various agreements it alleges that the Philippines agreed to in 2021 and 2023.

The “new model” is the latest narrative that China has used to justify its claims to STS and other features in the SCS since March. The first is the gentlemen’s agreement that Duterte agreed to in 2021 during his visit to China, which an unnamed Chinese diplomat also revealed during an interview with the Manila Times in March. The DFA issued a statement that said the negotiations have not resulted in any agreement, but they were surprised that China released sensitive details about the talks. Furthermore, the DFA also stated that China sent various concept papers to the Philippines that examined and found that several proposals were not in the country’s territorial best interests. Former Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque confirmed that Duterte made an agreement with China about the STS resupply missions.

The former president also confirmed that he made an agreement with China during his presidency. Both Roque and Duterte backtracked on their comments in the weeks after they revealed the agreement. They said that any agreement Duterte made was verbal and nonbinding, or that the agreement did not apply to the Marcos administration. Marcos also issued a directive that rescinded the measure to prevent China from using it to press its claims to the shoal. However, China released a statement that said the Marcos administration confirmed that they would abide by the agreement at the July 2023 meeting between the Chinese ambassador and the Secretary of National Defense. The various readouts both countries released after the meeting did not mention that both countries agreed or discussed the gentleman’s agreement.

The internal understanding is another narrative that China developed because the gentlemen’s agreement did not force the Philippines into backing down. Both China and the Philippines did not release any statements about the countries holding a meeting or approving an agreement in September 2023. For example, the DFA’s or Chinese Embassy’s website did not post any advisories or press releases indicating that a meeting occurred during September or August 2023. Another aspect that indicates that China fabricated the internal understanding is that the Philippines would not approve any agreement that reduces its rights to its territorial waters. The Philippines is consistent in saying that it will not negotiate or approve any agreement that would reduce its sovereignty over either the STS or the SCS. Furthermore, the only evidence of an internal understanding is the statement that China’s FAM released on May 6th. The lack of evidence compared to the gentleman’s agreement or the “new model” indicates that China developed this specific narrative as an ad hoc response to the Philippines rejection of the first agreement.

China released the transcripts about the “new model” to prevent the Philippines from increasing its relationship with the United States and other countries. The release came out during the Balikatan joint exercise between the Philippines, Australia, France, and the United States. Furthermore, China also began to release statements about the “new model” after the SQUAD condemned the country’s actions in the SCS during the meeting. China hoped that the release would create a wedge between the Philippines, the United States, and its other allies that would prevent the relationships from increasing in strength. Furthermore, China also hoped that the transcripts would decrease the trust the United States and other countries would have in the Philippines. However, China did not anticipate that the Philippines would be transparent about the narratives released and that its allies would accept the transcripts as genuine.

China also released the transcript a few days before the Philippines released details about the country beginning land reclamation at cays near Thitu Island and at Sabina Shoal to prevent the story from gaining news coverage. The land reclamation would mean that China is laying the groundwork to eventually begin construction at the shoals to reverse the 2016 UNCLOS decision. China would also view Sabina Shoal as vital to its efforts to intercept and prevent resupply missions from reaching the STS. The country hopes that the Philippines will be forced to remove both the navy personnel and the LST grounded at the shoal so they can occupy the shoal.

However, the model illustrates how China will purposely interpret any agreement related to the SCS as a way of acquiescing to its demands. China also chose to use the January timeframe to develop the transcripts because it aligns with the meeting that occurred between China and the Philippines in mid-January. At the meeting, Chinese Assistant Foreign Affairs Minister Nong Rong and the Philippines’ Foreign Undersecretary Theresa Lazaro agreed to improve the communication mechanism regarding the SCS. However, like the gentlemen’s agreement and the internal understanding, neither side mentioned anything about agreeing or negotiating the “new model.” The dates associated with both the phone call and the bilateral meeting also indicate that the transcripts are fake. The phone call between the WESCOM CG and the Chinese diplomat allegedly occurred in early January, while the bilateral meeting occurred in mid-January. Furthermore, neither Nong nor Lazaro mentioned the communication between the WESCOM CG and the embassy about the “new model” during their meeting.

Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin the panda began Sino Talk in 2022 primarily to give an objective, unbiased view on China related topics as well as other issues related to the Indo-Pacific region. He spent several years studying and traveling throughout China and many countries in the Indo-Pacific region. In another life, the panda was also a U.S. Marine intelligence analyst who enjoyed bamboo MREs and drinking bourbon and soju. Indo-Pacific Division Desk Chief for Atlas News.

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