President Rodrigo Duterte has said the United States remains scared of repercussions should it challenge China’s military might over the tensions in the West Philippines Sea.
In his speech during a campaign sortie of the ruling PDP-Laban party in Agusan del Norte on Sunday, the President recalled how the rift in the West Philippine Sea started, adding Washington mediated between Manila and Beijing by creating a deal asking the two countries to withdraw their respective ships from the resource-filled waters.
“If you go back in time to when it all began, this started in the Scarborough Islands. There was a standoff there and I remember that China sent a ship and we sent ours as well,” President Duterte said.
According to the President, former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and former President Benigno Aquino III were “hounding” him about the 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling.
“He [Del Rosario] was the only one who negotiated. But America was scared. They knew that a war about something so small is not worth it,” the President said.
As for the US, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo already gave an assurance to the Philippine government that the federal nation would offer protection in terms of military defense to the country in the event of an armed attack.
Last month, Pompeo stressed that “any armed attack” on the country’s armed forces would prompt Washington to act under the seven-decade-old Mutual Defense Treaty.
“As an island nation, the Philippines depends on free and unobstructed access to the seas. China’s island-building and military acts in the South China Sea threaten your sovereignty, security and therefore economic livelihood, as well as that of the US,” Pompeo said.
“As the South China Sea is part of the Pacific, any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger mutual defense obligations under Article 4 of our Mutual Defense Treaty,” Pompeo emphasized.
The US top diplomat also maintained that the federal nation’s commitment under the treaty remains “clear and real.”
The said treaty, forged by the Washington and Manila during the Cold War era in 1951, mandates that both countries should defend each other in case of an attack in its territory.
Duterte surmised that once China attacked the Philippines and the US decided to help the country, then the three countries would trigger a world war just for the contested waters.
“America knows it. Everybody does [know]. If those nuclear bombs, atom bombs, and hydrogen bombs will explode, nothing will be left of this world. We would all be destroyed,” he said.
“So, America said, ‘Both of you should retreat.’ Del Rosario ordered our ship to retreat, but China refused to follow. That is why they filed a case,” he added.
While the case in The Hague was being heard, China continued the construction of its facilities in the disputed territories, Duterte continued.
The President even questioned the US for failing to stop the East Asian giant from strengthening its claim in the disputed seas.
“That’s it. We lost it… So, why did they [US] not go there when China situated their ship there?” the President said.
“America did not do anything. Now it’s almost complete. It looks like a real camp. They have guns. They want me to visit it. It’s fine, it can be done just to show off. But we would all be destroyed. And my soldiers and my policemen will be massacred. We can’t defeat them,” he continued.
“So, let’s stick to just talking unless you want me to say, ‘Okay fine, I’ll attack China. Who’s with me?’ he added.
Conceding that the Philippine government cannot rely on its long-standing ally to defend Manila’s sovereignty in the disputed waterways, the President vowed to “do the most that he can” to address the issue as he even questions himself whether China would remain friendly or not to the country after the Aquino administration “picked a fight with them.”
The tension in the West Philippine Sea has been revived following reports on the presence of hundreds of supposed Chinese militiamen in the country’s territory.
While the Palace maintained that Beijing’s action in the Philippine-claimed territories constituted to violations of the country’s sovereignty, the President stressed that he would rather have a “compromise with Beijing as going against the East Asian giant’s military might could be as good as “committing suicide.”
However, Duterte made it clear that while the Philippines continued to be friends with China, “things would be different” once Beijing touched the Philippine-occupied Pag-Asa Island.
Currently, the Chinese government has yet to respond to any of the salvo of protests filed by the Philippines concerning the issues on the West Philippine Sea.
The Palace already said the issues might be discussed “one way or another” during Duterte’s trip to China for the second Belt and Road for International Cooperation forum this week.
The Philippine government, meanwhile, expects five bilateral agreements to be forged with China during Duterte’s attendance at the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, the Department of Foreign Affairs announced.
In a pre-departure briefing in Malacañang, DFA Assistant Secretary Meynardo Montealegre said the President would attend the three-day forum with 39 other leaders and heads of international organizations.
According to the DFA official, the BRFIC would tackle Beijing’s ambitious effort to enhance regional cooperation and connectivity through the Belt and Road Initiative.
“This initiative envisions global connectivity through infrastructure, facilitation of free trade, financial integration, and people-to-people exchanges,” Montealegre told Palace reporters.
Through the BRI, Montealegre explained China was seeking to better the alignment of government policies concerning economic development and regional cooperation, strengthen coordination of infrastructure plans, encourage soft infrastructures such as trade, investment, and regulatory standards, and bolster people-to-people connections through cultural exchanges and tourism.
In related developments:
• The Philippines’ largest warship arrived in China on Monday to attend a naval parade, part of a goodwill visit as China extends the hand of friendship despite regional tensions and suspicions.
Beijing will mark today 70 years since the founding of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, where it will show off new warships including nuclear submarines and destroyers at a major review in the waters off the port city of Qingdao.
China says warships from about a dozen nations are also taking part”•one diplomatic source with direct knowledge said it was 13 countries in total.
Manila’s BRP Tarlac docked in Qingdao with a Malaysian frigate.
The Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam have sparred with China over competing claims in the South China Sea. All 3 countries are participating in the PLA event.
Asked about the Philippines’ role in the initiative, the Montealegre said: “We would like to take advantage of the economic opportunities that the Belt and Road will provide.”
“He [Duterte] said that the Philippines’ initiative can complement regional and international connectivity mechanisms such as the BRI and the Asean Master Plan of Connectivity,” he told Palace reporters.
“So, the President’s participation will be a continuation of such proposals that he made during the first forum,” he added.
On the sidelines of the forum, the President will engage in two separate bilateral meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.
Duterte is also expected to attend a high-level meeting and a leaders’ roundtable session on April 26 to 27, where he will be one of the leader speakers.
Montealegre added: “We are looking at some possible agreements in the areas of education, anti-corruption, official development assistance, as well as drug rehabilitation.”
The President’s visit to Beijing follows tensions in the West Philippine Sea after reports of Chinese vessels surrounding the Pag-Asa Island, something the country’s military believed to be Chinese militia.
The Philippine government has filed diplomatic protests against China’s actions, viewing their presence in the Philippine-claimed waters as “illegal” and “clear violation” of the country’s sovereignty.
The Palace did not discount the possibility that issue in the contested waters might be discussed during the visit of the President.
However, the Chinese government has not responded yet to any of the Philippines’ note verbale.
In 2017, the President, among the 29 heads of state and government, participated in the first BRFIC, where he introduced his administration’s ambitious mega-infrastructure “Build, Build, Build” plan.
The BRI, or the One Belt, One Road, has been a major foreign policy of Xi since it was announced in 2013.
Meanwhile, amid this week’s naval parade in Qingdao touted to be the largest held by China to showcase its naval prowess, Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino senatorial candidate and former Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile said the law that governed the West Philippine Sea was the rule of force.
Enrile, who is vying for a fifth term in the Senate, said that among nations what counted was the rule of force and not the rule of law.
“Because among nations, it is what they call a Hobbesian society. It is the rule of force rather than the rule of law [that matters],” Enrile explained, referring to a situation of unrestrained competition expounded by political philosopher Thomas Hobbes.
In an interview, Enrile pointed out the difference between Philippine’s territorial waters and its core territory.
He said what was recognized by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas was the Philippines’ territorial waters which is 200 miles from the shoreline.
He said that within that 200-mile territorial water was the Philippines exclusive economic zone.