Amid criticism that the Philippines government has not done enough to counter the threat of China’s expansion of its control over the maritime region surrounding the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte stated that he plans to dispatch the country’s navy to the South China Sea if China begins drilling for oil and minerals in the region controlled by the Philippines archipelago.
Duterte’s statement comes amid growing concerns over more than 200 Chinese ships moored at the Whitsun Reef and other waters in the Philippines-controlled exclusive economic zone.
Duterte has faced criticism for being “soft” on China’s intrusions into the country’s territorial waters since he took office in 2016.
“I already told the Chinese government, I’m not so much interested now in fishing. I don’t think there’s enough fish really to quarrel about,” Duterte said in an address on Monday, referring to Chinese claims that the ships were merely fishing vessels.
“I am addressing myself to the Chinese government. We want to remain friends, we want to share whatever it is. … But when we start to mine, when we start to get whatever is in the bowels of the [South] China Sea, then by that time I will send my gray ships there to state a claim. That you can be sure of,” Duterte said, reports Radio Free Asia.
The Philippines president added that Manila would act if China or any other country initiated resource exploration activities in the area.
“If you start digging for oil, [or] nickel there, [or] precious stones – that would be the time because that is the time that we should act on it,” he said, according to an official transcript of his speech.
The government in Manila stated that as of April, 44 of the Chinese ships remained near the location and showed “no actual fishing activities,” prompting concerns about their purpose in the region. The government said that 240 Chinese Maritime Military ships were “lingering” in various Philippines-controlled areas of the South China Sea.
The Philippines summoned Beijing’s envoy to Manila, Hung Xi Lian, over the ships’ continued presence. China has yet to officially respond to the remarks made by the Philippines leader.
As previously reported by Rebel News, the Philippines is now taking a stronger stance against China’s presence in the maritime region, citing a 2016 international arbitration court’s ruling in its favour over claims that the Philippines controls the disputed region.
Five other countries in Southeast Asia, including Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam have disputed claims with China in the region.