MANILA (AFP) - China is harbouring major drug lords who smuggle narcotics into the Philippines, the President said on Thursday (July 28) as he pressed on with his ruthless war on crime.
Mr Rodrigo Duterte made the remarks even as the two countries continue to bicker over an international tribunal invalidating Beijing's extensive claims to the South China Sea. "Where is the big fish (in illegal drugs)? If you want them, go to China. Look for them there," Mr Duterte told soldiers and police during a visit to a military camp. "I wanted to talk to the ambassador. That is how serious it is. Now, how do I fight this? We cannot just go there and just declare war."
He did not identify the alleged drug lords and a Chinese embassy spokesman could not be contacted for comment.
Mr Duterte had previously asserted that most of the illegal drugs in the Philippines originated from China and that many Chinese had been arrested for smuggling drugs into the country.
But it was the first time he explicitly named China as the lair of those responsible for the trafficking.
Mr Duterte has openly called for the killing of drug dealers and police figures show at least 316 such suspects have been slain since he took office on June 30. Police say the killings were in self-defence.
However local media agencies have posted even higher totals of deaths, with human rights advocates warning that these may be extra-judicial killings.
Last week the Chinese embassy in Manila issued a statement saying that Beijing was offering its support to Duterte's drug crackdown.
"China has expressed explicitly to the new administration China's willingness for effective cooperation in this regard, and would like to work out a specific plan of action with the Philippine side," the embassy said.
Beijing is known to execute drug offenders and in recent years has put to death several Filipinos found guilty of smuggling narcotics into China.
Mr Duterte, who was elected on May 9 after running on a fierce anti-drugs platform, reiterated during the visit that his special envoy, former president Fidel Ramos, would soon be going to China to discuss the dispute over the South China Sea.
Ties between the two countries have frayed after the UN-linked tribunal ruling, which was widely seen as a victory for the Philippines.
China previously offered to reopen talks with the Philippines on the issue but only if it disregarded the tribunal decision. The Philippines refused.