PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte is open to holding joint exercises with China as he toured one of the ships of the Chinese navy docked in Davao City for a goodwill visit to the country.
Speaking to reporters, Duterte said he was open to war games with China in the seas around Mindanao.
“Yes, I said I agree, you can have a joint exercise here in Mindanao, maybe in the Sulu Sea,” the President said after visiting the Chinese warships at Sasa Wharf in his hometown.
Duterte and some Philippine defense officials were given a tour by Chinese naval and diplomatic officials inside the Chinese guided destroyer Chan Chung (DDG-150).
The warship of the People’s Liberation Army Navy and two other naval vessels are in Duterte’s hometown for a two-day visit until Tuesday.
Duterte was all praises for the Chinese warship, which he said had an array of arms, including missile launchers.
“Very impressive. It’s clean and even the carpeting, it’s all carpeted inside and it’s like a hotel actually. Sabi ko nga [I said], is there any room here for guests? Sabi nila, mayroon for guests [They said they have room for guests]. Sabi ko [I said], ‘Can I use it?’…’I want to get married, but…the lady is waiting downstairs,’” Duterte said in jest.
According to the President, the port call was “part of confidence-building and goodwill.”
“And to show we are friends, that’s why I welcomed them here, and I am the one who asked for it. ‘Show me your warships,’” Duterte said.
But the President denied that the Chinese military offered aid to Philippine forces. “The (Philippine) military is not allowed to do that, they’re only authorized to talk within their own ambit of ships. But very limited information,” he said.
The visit came a day after Duterte issued a chairman’s statement on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) that took a soft stance toward Chinese expansionism and island-building in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The statement merely took note of “concerns expressed by some leaders over recent developments in the area.” It ignored last year’s international ruling outlawing China’s sweeping claims to the key waterway.
Duterte, elected last year, has changed foreign policy by playing down his country’s territorial dispute with China over large parts of the South China Sea in favor of greater economic aid and investment.
The Philippines has claims that overlap with those of China in the South China Sea.
Besides the Philippines, Asean members Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei claim parts of the Sea, but China insists it has sovereign rights over nearly all of it.