Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte tried to allay fears over China’s construction of military bases on man-made islands in the South China Sea, saying they are a defence against the US, not made to attack Asian states.
“It’s not intended for us,” he said in a speech to Chinese-Filipino businessmen on Monday. “The contending ideological powers of the world or the geopolitics has greatly changed.
“It’s really intended against those who the Chinese think would destroy them and that is America.”
Duterte also blamed past Philippine governments for not building up the country’s defences in the Spratly archipelago – known in China as the Nansha Islands – at a time when Beijing was only starting to build its artificial islands.
“We did nothing,” the firebrand leader complained.
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China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which US$3 trillion worth of goods passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have overlapping claims.
A handout picture made available by the Armed Forces of the Philippines Public Affairs Office in 2015 shows construction at Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea by China. Duterte has tried to close the divide between the Philippines and China. Photo: Armed Forces of the Philippines via EPA
The United States has criticised China’s build-up of military facilities on the islands and is concerned they could be used to restrict free movement along the trade route.
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China and the Philippines have long sparred over the South China Sea, but relations have improved considerably under Duterte, who has been courting Beijing in hopes of winning business and investment.
In 2014, Beijing started expanding the seven features it occupies in the Spratlys, reclaiming and building artificial islands which are now becoming military bases with airstrips, ports and anti-air and surface-to-surface missiles sites based on satellite and aerial photos.