Philippines’ lacklustre fight in the South China Sea


Amid South China Sea dispute, President Rodrigo Duterte balks at pushing back after landmark maritime rights ruling.

Manila, Philippines – “I cannot go to war with China,” says Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte whenever he is pressed about his country’s challenged sovereignty claim over a portion of the South China Sea.

It’s the same line he told his Navy on its 120th anniversary on Tuesday. Although appreciative of the sailors’ “gallant” efforts to defend the archipelago’s maritime territory, Duterte implicitly acknowledged their inferiority to their Chinese counterparts.

“I cannot go into a battle that I cannot win,” he said before the Navy’s ranks and top brass.

It’s a decidedly “defeatist” stance Duterte has taken, his critics point out, and they say he is partly to blame for China’s audacity in continuing to militarise its garrisons in the Spratly and Paracel island groups despite calls from several countries that it stop.

That is because the Philippines has not joined those calls, when it is the one country that possesses an ace card that could possibly trump China’s military might: a UN-backed arbitral award that debunks China’s sweeping claim over the South China Sea, and affirms its own exclusive rights to 200 nautical miles of sea from its shores.