China Fishing Vessels On Whitsun Reef,

Closer view of one set of fishing vessels at Whitsun Reef, which Manila calls the Julian Felipe Reef, in this Maxar handout satellite image taken March 23, 2021. Satellite image (copyright) 2021 Maxar Technologies

Philippines Will Not Confront China’s Maritime Militia

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April 20, 2021

By Andreo Calonzo (Bloomberg) Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said challenging China in the South China Sea will only lead to violence, and that he will only do so if Beijing drills for oil in the disputed waters.

“If we go there to assert our jurisdiction, it will be bloody,” Duterte said at a televised briefing late Monday, his first remarks after hundreds of Chinese vessels were spotted at a disputed reef in March.

Duterte said he will only send Navy ships in the contested waters if China begins to drill for oil. “If they get the oil, that would be time that we should act on it,” he said.

Philippine defense chief Delfin Lorenzana told Duterte during the meeting that Navy ships can patrol the country’s exclusive economic zone, after the president said that “nothing will happen” if the nation sends its ships “because we are not in the possession of the sea.”

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Tensions between the two nations have deepened in the past weeks. Manila has repeatedly protested Beijing’s presence and has deployed more vessels in disputed areas, even as Duterte keeps a friendly stance, thanking China for supply of coronavirus vaccines. China has said that its vessels’ presence in the South China Sea is normal and legitimate.

The U.S. has aired concerns over China’s “maritime militia” in the area, backing the Philippines — a longtime military ally. Duterte on Monday said the U.S. will not come to the Philippines’ aid if the conflict is “of our own making.”

The Philippine leader said he’s “not so much interested” in the marine resources in the South China Sea. “I will give them five Coast Guard ships, and they can chase it. They can play with each other, and see who’s faster,” he said.

The Southeast Asian nation last year lifted a ban on South China Sea oil exploration, paving the way for advancing talks with China, even as the nations still have to navigate their overlapping claims in the area.

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P

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