Manila seeks to maintain close ties with Beijing despite any potential tensions in the disputed South China Sea, President Duterte said, emphasizing that the Philippines and China have no issues that can’t be resolved politically.
“If I go to war my Navy will be crushed in a matter of minutes. If I wage a war with China, in seven minutes their missile will reach Manila,” Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday, defending his good relationship with Beijing, despite recent tensions over the presence of a large number of Chinese vessels off Thitu Island in the South China Sea.
Speaking in Malabon City the day after the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) kicked off their massive annual military exercise with the United States, Duterte stressed that Beijing also remains committed to friendly relations with Manila. The special bond, Duterte believes, flourished after China (as well as Russia) answered Manila’s calls to supply the country with armaments to fight Islamist insurgency, after Washington halted military shipments over ‘human rights’ concerns.
China just wants to be friend with us. They gave us arms, ammunition. I went there because America failed to deliver what we ordered.
“It was only when I went there and talked to them and Russia that the Americans started to take notice,” Duterte said.
China, which constantly faces US pressure over its expanding military presence in the South China Sea, continues to focus on diplomacy rather than coercion when it comes to solving territorial disputes with the Philippines.
“You don’t have to worry about whether there would be any kind of outbreak of conflict or not,” Zhao Jianhua, the Chinese ambassador to the Philippines, stressed on Monday, after the Philippines lodged an official protest over the presence of hundreds of Chinese vessels in the disputed waterway in recent months. Furthermore, Beijing promised to investigate Manila’s complaint and offered to solve the issue through the bilateral consultation mechanism.
Washington, in the meantime, has been assuring Manila that it stands ready to “defend” the Philippines against China in the South China Sea. Just on Monday, the Pentagon expressed willingness to “increase interoperability” and to “support” the Philippines’ military modernization plans, in order to ensure a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”