Duterte reassures China over his order to occupy sea reefs
13 April, 2017
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says his order to the military to reinforce areas in the South China Sea controlled by Manila is to maintain the geopolitical balance and has assured China no "offensive weapons" will be placed there. Duterte said on 10 April the Philippines wanted peace and friendship with China but his country needed to bolster what territory it had in the Spratly archipelago because "everybody's grabbing" islands and reefs in the disputed waterway.
The maverick former mayor set off alarm bells on 6 April, including in Beijing, when he said he had ordered troops to occupy uninhabited islets and shoals that the Philippines claims in the Spratly Islands. Duterte's comment made at a military base on Palawan island, near the disputed waters, came two days after Manila's acting foreign minister said China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations had made progress on a framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea.
Duterte has previously sought to improve his nation's relations with China by adopting a non-confrontational approach over their competing claims in the strategically vital waters. But the president appeared to alter his tone with his announcement 30 March, saying it was time to "erect structures there and raise the Philippine flag". The two neighbours are scheduled to hold talks in China in May to tackle issues related to the sea row. The Philippine military currently has garrisons on Thitu, the largest of the Filipino-claimed islands.
China asserts sovereignty over almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea despite rival claims from Southeast Asian neighbors and has rapidly built reefs into artificial islands capable of hosting military planes. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have also sparred with Beijing over territory in the disputed waterway.