PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has repeated before Russian television China’s threat of war if the Philippines insisted on drilling for oil in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) in Beijing.
In an interview with Moscow-based news channel Russia Today (RT), released upon his arrival in Russia for an official visit on Monday, the President said confronting China would not help because Manila was not ready for war against Beijing.
Duterte, who met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing last week, said he and Chinese leaders talked about the 2016 ruling of a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal that trashed China’s claims over the disputed waters.
“I’ve been very frank with them. They said arbitral – I went more than that. I would not tell you what the official said to me, but said ‘We can be friends.’ Then I said ‘I want to drill now, because we want to find…,’” Duterte said.
But he said he was told by the Chinese: “’Please, do not do it.’ And I said ‘Why?’ – ‘Because instead of being friends we will be enemies, and there might be war.’”
“Do you expect me to fight China in a war? Do I have the cruise missiles to hit them? Do I have the missiles to launch when they bomb [us]. So what will happen is there is going to be a massacre,” Duterte said.
Duterte reiterated he would not insist on the arbitration ruling in favor of Manila.
“Never mind about the insistence of the arbitral. At the end of the day it is this: you say it is yours, and I say it is mine,” he added.
In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of Philippines in its arbitration case against China over conflicting claims on the South China Sea.
But China ignored the ruling and warned the Philippines against trying to use the verdict as leverage. On Friday, Duterte claimed that China warned his administration of war if Manila insisted on its ownership of areas in the disputed waters.
The President said the Chinese side issued the warning after he expressed the Philippines’ intention to drill oil in the resource-rich waters, particularly Recto (Reed) Bank.
“We can talk about it later on, but not now, because everybody is grabbing a piece of the property. Maybe when the time comes, when everything is quiet and it’s conducive to talks. And as I said, [we could talk about]joint venture. But not now. No hard selling now. Not yet, because, as I said, everybody is claiming it,” Duterte said.
Duterte has taken a soft stance with China as he seeks billions of dollars in trade and investment from Beijing. The President is in Moscow for a four-day visit as he recalibrates his foreign policy toward China and Russia and away from the United States.
Duterte said he would rather choose Russia than the US because it is “bright and generous.”
“I’m just playing with my mind that the Russians are brighter than the Americans. I think they are more sophisticated, more precise. And I said that since Russia is brighter than America, I’ll go to Russia. Also, because the Russians are not only bright, they are generous and they help all,” he said
But Duterte also clarified that the Philippines harbors no ill-feelings toward the US, while pursuing closer cooperation with China and Russia.
“I have nothing against America. They’re perfectly alright. [US President Donald] Trump is my friend. But my foreign policy has shifted from the pro-Western one. I am now working on an alliance with China, and I hope to start a good working relationship with Russia,” Duterte said.
The Philippines’ relations with the US turned sour after Trump’s predecessor, former US president Barack Obama, criticized Duterte’s brutal crackdown on illegal drugs.
Duterte then launched series of profanity-laced remarks against the US and other critics like the European Union.