PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Friday hit China’s reclamation activities the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), warning Beijing its actions could disrupt trade and become a potential military “flashpoint.”
China appears to be building new structures in the disputed Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), also called Bajo de Masinloc, Duterte revealed.
In a speech during the inauguration of the Davao International Container Terminal in Davao del Norte, Duterte said he received an intelligence report claiming that new barges were going to the area for construction activities.
“I read the report that the Coast Guard made little trips near them and there are a lot of barges. What is the purpose of a barge? … I think they are starting at Bajo de Masinloc and this would be another ruckus there,” Duterte said.
The President warned China against continuing its reclamation activities, stressing that South China Sea could be a “potential flashpoint” and that military buildup in the area could disrupt world trade.
“The problem is we do not really know what the intentions of China are … Because if it continues building military installations there, everything will go up. Then trade in this part of that alley there, that corridor, would go up,” he said.
While he reiterated that he does not intend to bring up the July 12 arbitration ruling that invalidated China’s claims to the disputed waters during next week’s Asean Summit in Laos, Duterte said he would raise the matter during bilateral talks with China.
“I have nothing against China now. I do not intend to raise the issue before Asean because if I do, there’s going to be a convoluted thing there,” Duterte said.
Duterte pivoted on his China stance on Monday and said the Philippines would set the international ruling in its favor during initial talks with Beijing on the West Philippine Sea dispute.
But on Friday, the President said any negotiation with China should be based on the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s decision that favored the Philippines.
“Whether you like it or not, I proceed, and my predicate for my willingness to talk to you would be the arbitration judgment in our favor,” Duterte said.
The President however clarified that a military confrontation with China was out of the question.
“We are all for peace. I do not want to ignite anything there. I’ve been holding my tongue,” he said.
“I carry on my shoulders the burden of this country. I am the President. I take care solely of the foreign affairs of this country and I should be wary of my behavior and gesture, and even in my official and personal capacity … Everything is all right,” the President added.