Philippine president says Manila owes money to Beijing ‘but is working hard not to ignore the country’s sovereignty.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said he will not remove the naval vessels and marine patrols off the disputed South China Sea, saying the country’s sovereignty over the water cannot be changed. At the same time, he added that he wanted to maintain relations with China, citing Manila’s “grateful debt” for Beijing’s support of the coronavirus vaccine.
Conflicts over the region’s waters, which China says are almost entirely unfolded, have arisen over Beijing’s refusal to ship its ships to the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Manila’s voyage.
Duterte is under a lot of pressure at home to get into trouble but he did not hesitate to meet China on the issue as he tries to make a closer connection with the economic giant.
He said Wednesday that even the Philippines is indebted to China’s “best friend” on a number of issues, including the free COVID-19 vaccine, which his country has said on the water route “could not be contradictory”.
“I’m telling China, we don’t want trouble, we don’t want war. But you tell us to leave – no,” Duterte said.
“There are things that are not really compatible, such as regression. It’s difficult. I hope they understand, but I am interested in my country to protect it again.”
Duterte’s attempts to address the issue have angered Filipinos on television with many accusing the President of being a “rebel” by not participating in the South China Sea conflict.
In a statement Thursday, retired Supreme Court Judge Antonio Carpio, who had filed a Philippine case in the South China Sea before the Arbitration Supreme Court in The Hague, also criticized Duterte.
“The people of the Philippines deserve, and should want, a president who loves the people of the Philippines for the first time who can protect the rights of the Philippines and their rights in the West Philippine Sea,” he said.
Duterte’s comments came as the country’s security ministry said China “has no business telling the Philippines what to do and what not to do with our own water”.
The Philippine Coast Guard is conducting experiments near Thitu Island and the Scarborough Shoal, as well as the Batanes Islands in the north and the south and east of the country.
Scarborough – one of the largest fishing grounds in the region – has been the scene of light between Manila and Beijing.
Responding to the incident, China’s foreign ministry also said Monday that the Philippines should “stop the activities that are fueling the conflict and escalating the conflict”. Other countries, including Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei, occupy parts of the South China Sea. Taiwan also has a claim.
In recent weeks, Manila has launched a “control movement” involving maritime troops and fishermen in the Spratly Islands – islands opposed to several countries.
The Philippines has recently joined forces with the United States.
Beijing has ignored a 2016 international court ruling that declared its history of southern China to have no basis.
The existing agreement between Manila and Beijing has escalated under the leadership of Duterte, who reversed the decision in exchange for trade and financial promises – which opponents have not met.
The delay in the COVID-19 vaccine has left the Philippines relying heavily on snails produced by Chinese Sinovac.
About 3.5 million units have been shipped to Southeast Asia to date, plus one set of deliveries.