AFTER giving his top diplomat the go-ahead to proceed with talks with Beijing on a possible joint exploration agreement in the West Philippine Sea, President Duterte threatened war against China if it unilaterally struck oil and uranium in the resource-rich waters.
In a speech on Tuesday night, the President said a situation where the Asian giant decides to go it alone without the Philippines will not sit well with him, and even warned that Interior Secretary Eduardo M. Año may bring “a bolo to hack the Chinese” if Beijing, which has drawn widespread condemnation earlier for militarizing the Southeast Asian seas, will monopolize the natural resources.
“If you will monopolize it, there will be trouble,” Duterte said before the League of Municipalities Visayas Clusters in Cebu. “But…the uranium there…that will be difficult. The oil there, it will be difficult. We will have a difference there, you will see Año bringing a bolo to hack the Chinese.”
Notably, the President’s statements came amid the government’s plan to push for a possible joint exploration deal with China in the West Philippine Sea.
Foreign Secretary Alan Peter S. Cayetano earlier said the President has approved “in principle” the establishment of a technical working group on the joint exploration.
He said China was also ready with its own technical working group and is hoping that framework agreement between the Philippines and China could be signed in September.
Duterte also reiterated in his speech in Cebu that one day during his term—but not now—he will assert the country’s claim in the West Philippine Sea. He has drawn flak for an apparently cozy relationship with Beijing to the extent that the Philippine government has not moved to assert its rights even after winning its case against China in a United Nations arbitral tribunal in 2016.
Duterte in Cebu also recounted the time that he brought up to Chinese President Xi Jinping the Philippines’s claim in the West Philippine Sea and the country’s victory when The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration issued the landmark decision invalidating China’s massive claim in 2016. Up to this day, China does not recognize the arbitral ruling.
“Mr. Xi Jinping, we also have a claim. You know we have the award. But I will not insist on recovering the award because it would result in a war, and it will be a massacre. I know. But please be it noted that one day during my term, I will assert,” Duterte recalled, telling the Chinese leader.
The Duterte administration has been criticized for taking a softer approach when it comes to dealing with China on the maritime dispute. But in a speech last week, the President said China should “temper” its behavior in the South China Sea after the Chinese navy threatened a Philippine military aircraft and told it to stay away from China-held artificial islands.
Former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario lauded the President for his statement, saying that “nine out of 10 Filipinos would be encouraged and inspired by this manifestation of the President’s positive leadership.”
Beijing, however, issued a rebuke, reminding Duterte that remarks such as these do not help the relationship between the two countries, which have reached a new high under his and Xi’s respective leaderships.