MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte said early Saturday he assured Chinese President Xi Jinping that American troops would never set foot on Pag-asa Island in the disputed South China Sea as he asked why China’s ships were surrounding the area.
Recalling “the last time” he met with the Chinese leader, Duterte said he was aware of repercussions if US presence would be allowed on the island.
The Philippines and the US have a standing defense treaty under which Americans would defend the country in case of external aggression.
“I was not angry, pero sinabi ko (but I said), ‘Did I not tell you Mr. President that I will never allow the Americans to set foot on any of the islands controlled by the Philippines, that we will not start any war, and that I will never allow American weapons to be stationed in that island?'” he said during a television interview over Sonshine Media Network.
Duterte did not mention a specific date of their meeting but he was known to have last met with Xi in April, when he went to Beijing for the Belt and Road Forum.
“So why are you surrounding my island with so many ships? You’re wasting your gasoline… might as well give it to us,” he added.
The island under Palawan is in the West Philippine Sea, the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the disputed waters where the Philippines has long maintained a military detachment. It is also home to a civilian community.
The President said the presence of US soldiers on the Philippine-occupied island could have serious diplomatic implications. The US has been watchful of the situation in the South China Sea, pressing for freedom of navigation in the vital waterway.
Citing his statement to Xi, Duterte said: “I told you, ‘I will not allow, as long as I am President, any American to set foot on that Pag-asa Island because I know it will create really trouble.'”
It was the first time Duterte spoke in detail about the bilateral meeting with the Chinese leader. Malacañang had said in the aftermath of the meet that both sides agreed that “the situation can be managed by the mechanism of bilateral negotiations but it should not affect the cooperation” between the two countries.