South China Sea: Duterte hits out at Beijing for ‘blatant disregard’ to claims over waters

Philippines to take action against China amid sea tension

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The Philippines has ramped up its rhetoric in recent weeks over the lingering presence of hundreds of Chinese boats in its 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), testing relations between two countries that have sought to heal their historic rifts. The Philippine foreign ministry said maritime officials had observed the “continued unauthorised presence and activities” of 160 Chinese fishing and militia vessels around the disputed Spratly islands and Scarborough shoal, as of April 20. Five Chinese coastguard vessels were also spotted around the areas.

The foreign ministry said: “The continued swarming and threatening presence of the Chinese vessels creates an atmosphere of instability and is a blatant disregard of the commitments by China to promote peace and stability in the region.”

It comes as the Philippines announces a boosting of its presence of vessels in its EEZ. Under international law, foreign vessels are permitted to make “innocent passage” through a country’s EEZ.

Chinese diplomats have denied that militia were aboard the vessels.

China’s embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday on the new protests.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, where about $3 trillion worth of ship-borne trade passes each year.

An international arbitral tribunal in 2016 invalidated China’s expansive claim, which is based on its own maps.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have competing claims to various islands and features.

It comes as President Rodrigo Duterte said he was prepared to send his military ships in the South China Sea to “stake a claim” over oil and mineral resources in the disputed part of the strategic waterway.

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With some critics complaining Duterte had gone soft by refusing to push Beijing to comply with an arbitration ruling, he said the public can be assured he would assert the country’s claims to resources like oil and minerals in the South China Sea.

“I’m not so much interested now in fishing. I don’t think there’s enough fish to quarrel about.

“But when we start to mine, when we start to get whatever it is in the bowels of the China Sea, our oil, by that time I will send my grey ships there to stake a claim,” Duterte said in a late night public address.

“If they start drilling oil there, I will tell China, is that part of our agreement? If that is not part of our agreement, I will also drill oil there,” he said even as he reiterated he wanted to remain friends with Beijing.

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Duterte has sought to build an alliance with China and has been reluctant to confront its leadership, having been promised billions of dollars of loans and investments, much of which have yet to materialise, frustrating nationalists.

He has repeatedly said the Philippines was powerless to stop China, and that challenging its activities could risk a war his country would lose.

The firebrand leader said there was no way for the Philippines to enforce “without any bloodshed” a landmark 2016 arbitral ruling that clarified the Philippines sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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