Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said that he would not withdraw navy and coast guard boats patrolling the South China Sea, insisting that the country’s sovereignty over the waters is not negotiable.
Tensions over the sea have spiked as Beijing refuses to pull out vessels from the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and Manila steps up maritime patrols.
China claims almost all of the waters of the South China Sea, where it has established military outposts on artificial islands. Taiwan has virtually identical claims.
Duterte is under growing domestic pressure to take a harder line, but has been reluctant to confront China over the issue as he fosters closer ties with the economic giant.
Late on Wednesday, he said that while the Philippines is indebted to its “good friend” China for many things, including free COVID-19 vaccines, his country’s claims to the waterway “cannot be bargainable.”
“I’ll tell China, we do not want trouble, we do not want war. But if you tell us to leave — no,” Duterte said. “There are things which are not really subject to a compromise, such as us pulling back. It’s difficult. I hope they understand, but I have the interest of my country also to protect.”
The president’s remarks came after the Philippine Department of National Defense said: “China has no business telling the Philippines what we can and cannot do with our own waters.”
The Philippine Coast Guard is conducting drills near Thitu Island (Jhongye Island, 中業島) and Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island, 黃岩島), as well as the Batanes Islands.
Once-frosty ties between Manila and Beijing have warmed under Duterte, who has received Chinese promises of trade and investment — which critics say have not materialized.
Delays in COVID-19 vaccine deliveries have left the Philippines heavily reliant on the CoronaVac jab developed by China’s Sinovac.
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