MOSCOW – President Duterte has found an ally in Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in his view against antagonizing China over concerns that would affect their dealings with Beijing.
“I cannot fight China. It would be a war which I can never win,” the President said during his speech before the Filipino community here on Saturday before leaving for Davao City. “And that is what Mahathir, in my briefer the other day, said in Malaysia: I cannot fight China. I do not have the might. So, which means might is right and right is might.”
The Malaysian prime minister’s stance was supposedly in reference to China’s alleged crackdown on Uighur Muslims and other Muslim groups.
Duterte, 74, has been warding off criticisms for his stance on the conflict in the South China Sea while the 94-year-old Mahathir has been careful in commenting on the Uighur issue. Mahathir is deemed as the oldest leader in the world.
“Mahathir (is) a very wise leader. He is respected in the whole world,” Duterte said.
Duterte mentioned Mahathir’s stance while he told the Filipino community here that China has agreed to a 60-40 sharing scheme in favor of the Philippines for oil exploration in the West Philippine Sea.
He also said that while he agrees on the need for the Philippines to assert its sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea, it could not threaten to go to war against Beijing as it will surely lose.
Mahathir has refused to comment on the growing criticism over China’s persecution of some Muslim minority groups, many of which are allegedly held in camps. In August 2018, reports said a UN committee heard that up to one million Uighur Muslims and other Muslim groups could be detained in the western Xinjiang region, where they’re said to be undergoing “re-education” programs. China has denied the allegations.
For himself, Duterte has also been careful in dealing with the conflict on the WPS even as he has crafted what he describes as an independent foreign policy that leans on non-traditional allies such as China and Russia.
Critics of his policy have pointed out that the country sought UN-backed international arbitraton precisely because war is an option.
“They have a missile that can reach Manila in seven minutes. Would I be crazy to go to war with that kind of armaments arrayed against my country? …So that’s the story. Just to explain things. We are not ready to go to war. We cannot afford it and we will not win it. And why would I sacrifice the lives?” he said partly in Filipino.
The Malaysian leader, who bats for multi-ethnicity, has admitted that China was too “powerful” to censure over the Uighur issue.