Duterte rules out war with China despite militarisation of Philippine territory

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President Duterte and a map showing the competing claims to the South China Sea.

President Duterte has reiterated that he would never go to war with China, even amid the country’s show of military force in the South China Sea.

The president made the remark at the 120th anniversary of the Philippine Navy yesterday (Tuesday, May 22).

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“I cannot afford at this time to go to war,” he said. “I cannot go into a battle, which I cannot win and it would only result in the destruction and probably a lot of losses for our armed forces.” 

The president said he wanted to do “something to assert” the Philippines’ claims in the in the disputed waters, but opted to temporarily shelve an arbitral tribunal’s decision to give way to friendly and peaceful dialogue.

The United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that China’s ‘nine-dash line’ map — which covers nearly all of the South China Sea — had no legal basis.

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Explaining why he had shelved the ruling, the president said: “And I said in my own estimation, it would be a great loss to the nation and probably end up losing a war. And all of these things I have wanted to make known to you and whether you accept it or not, that is the reality on the ground.”

Earlier this month, he suggested that the two countries could share any resources found in the waters.

In a palace press briefing yesterday, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the Philippines would not give up any of its territorial claims.

“Right now, our position is still the same: whatever happens there, no territory will be given. We will assert our rights and sovereignty on the maritime territory that is part of our exclusive economic zone,” he said.

He added that the government had serious concerns over reports that China has landed long-range H-6K bombers at an airfield on one of its reclaimed islands.

China has denied the militarisation allegations, saying the movement of the bombers was just part of the normal Chinese military training in the South China Sea, which Beijing reiterated “are Chinese territories”.

Roque said the Philippines, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, was already addressing the deployment of Chinese military assets through diplomatic channels.

Meanwhile, Vietnam is taking a much stronger approach against China’s incursions into its territory.

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