In event participated by US envoy, Duterte says China should ‘temper’ behavior in contested sea
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says Beijing should “temper” its behavior in the South China Sea, warning of a potential confrontation between China and the United States, which he says could affect his country.
According to Press TV, Duterte, who is known for his quick temper approach to politics, directed the rare public criticism toward China notably in the presence of the US ambassador to Manila and other foreign guests at a meeting in the Philippine capital on Tuesday evening.
China lays historical claims to much of the South China Sea — parts of which are also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei — and has built islands up from reefs and put military installations on them.
Considering the areas part of its territory, Beijing has also introduced restrictions for the movement of foreign vessels there but has been implementing them only laxly. Military vessels from the US and other countries have sailed in those areas, and China has merely issued standard warnings to them while allowing them to pass.
“They (Chinese officials) have to rethink that because that would be a flash point someday,” he said. “You cannot create an island. It’s man-made and you say that the air above this artificial island is yours. That is wrong because those waters are what we would consider international sea. And the right of innocent passage is guaranteed.”
“I hope that China would temper... its behavior,” Duterte said. “One of these days a hothead commander there will just press a trigger.”
In the dispute between China and other countries in the South China Sea, the US has invariably been taking the side of Beijing’s rival claimants.
Beijing says the US is an extra-territorial power and is only stoking tensions.
Duterte has zigzagged on China, but generally, he has tilted more toward Beijing than Western capitals, especially over Western criticism of the human rights situation in the Philippines under his rule.
He has been eager to develop closer trade and political ties with China. When he took office in June 2016, Duterte invited his Chinese counterpart to Manila. Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to visit the Philippines by yearend.
Duterte has also been critical of his predecessor, Benigno Aquino, who took the dispute with Beijing over the South China Sea to an international tribunal in The Hague.