MANILA — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said Beijing was already “in possession” of the disputed South China Sea and Washington’s return to a former naval base in the Southeast Asian country could raise the specter of war.
In his fifth state of the nation address, Duterte went off script and discussed at length the maritime dispute, which is increasingly becoming a focus of U.S.-China rivalry in the region.
Responding to criticisms that his government had not done enough to assert Philippines’ South China Sea claims, Duterte admitted he was “inutile”in the territorial dispute.
“China is claiming it. We are claiming it. China has the arms. We do not have it. So, it’s as simple as that. They are in possession of the property… so what can we do?” Duterte said.
“I have to go to war, but I cannot afford it, maybe other presidents can but I cannot… I cannot do anything,” he said.