President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday hit the United States anew, this time for failing to stop Beijing’s island-building activities in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
In his remarks during the celebration of Mindoro People’s Day in Oriental Mindoro, Duterte narrated his recent meeting with US Ambassador Sung Kim, saying he confronted the latter on why the US did nothing to stop China from building on the disputed waters.
Only the US, Duterte said, has the capability to stop China’s actions in the disputed waters, but the superpower appeared to have let the Chinese have their way, to the consternation of neighboring countries.
“I was talking to the ambassador yesterday afternoon in Davao City…I said I’m surprised really Mr. Ambassador because had America really wanted to avoid trouble early on, the overflights could have been shown on the newspapers. There was something brewing, there is something as if a runway was being built and there is some concrete building on the side,” Duterte said.
“Why did you not send the Armada of the Seventh Fleet which is stationed in the Pacific to just make a u-turn and go there and tell them right on their face, stop it? Because there is another set of laws that say you cannot make made-man structures in the high seas,” he added.
The President said the ambassador responded by saying he had a different assignment previously. Kim arrived in Manila on December 1, 2016.
Duterte then reiterated that the Philippines could not afford to go to war over the South China Sea, saying this would result in bloodshed.
The Duterte administration has been pushing for closer ties with China, but the President has vowed to raise the July 2016 international arbitration ruling in favor of the Philippines to the Chinese government at some point.
“I am not so much into war. My country is only a small one. On China, I can tell you: We have not abandoned our claim. When I went to China, my first statement was, ‘I come here in good faith and I extend my hand in friendship,’” Duterte said.
“I said, ‘I am not here to impose on anything. As a matter of fact, I do not want to mention it here in your presence.’ But, I said, ‘At any time during my term, we will have to talk about the arbitration of the [South] China Sea and when that time comes, I would present to you the judgment…,’” he added.
Duterte also stressed that he would not entertain any military alliance with China, noting that the Philippines has an existing Mutual Defense Treaty with the US.
“[T]heir (Chinese) perception is that we are dovetailing, we are following the foreign policy of America. I said ‘No, we are a sovereign power,’ and I think that we should chart our own. Although, we cannot enter into any military alliance with any other country because of the [mutual defense]pact, which was signed by our forefathers many years ago. Until now, it is enforced so it would be an incongruity for us to be joining alliances militarily with other countries,” he said.
On Tuesday, Malacañang said the Philippines and China had agreed to set up a mechanism on how to “properly handle” maritime disputes, and representatives from both countries would meet in May to craft a bilateral scheme.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua and President Duterte discussed the issue during a meeting in Davao City on Monday.