China told to ‘lay off’ Philippines’ islands shows SHIFT in Manila-Beijing relationship



THE PHILIPPINES is shifting its stance on the hotly disputed South China Sea by strengthening the nation’s relationship with the US.

As the midterm elections in the Philippines approach, President Rodrigo Duterte is attempting to overturn his “soft” approach with China over the territory, by engaging in talks with US President Donald Trump to increase their joint military efforts. Mr Duterte’s administration also warned China to “lay off” Manila-owned Thitu Island, in the Spratly archipelago. This came after 200 Chinese vessels were spotted there in what the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs condemned as “a clear violation of Philippine sovereignty”.

President Duterte has faced criticism for his handling of China and the South China Sea in 2016, which China ignored and continued to dominate with artificial islands and expanding military.

The ruling was further put aside when President Duterte came into power that same year as he was keen to pursue trade deals with Beijing.

His laid-back attitude towards China sparked violent protests in Manila and low approval ratings in early polls that he is keen to change.

He recently met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who appealed to the Mutual Defence Treaty (MDT) between both countries to assert the US’ commitment to assist Manila in the event of any armed attack from China as tensions become all the more strained with the Philippines and Beijing.

Mr Pompeo declared that Chinese military in the Spratly archipelago threatens the “sovereignty, security and therefore economic livelihood” of the Philippines and the US.