Philippines to get $21m worth of Chinese arms

China is providing the Philippines with US$14.4 million (S$20.8 million) worth of guns and equipment to aid President Rodrigo Duterte's war on criminals and terrorists.

"We have already received a list from China. We will go through it to see what we need. We may get some small arms, fast boats, and night-vision goggles," Defence Minister Delfin Lorenzana told reporters yesterday.

Mr Lorenzana said the weapons and equipment would be in the form of a "grant".

"This is free. They're giving it to us," he said.

He said the offer was made by China's Ambassador Zhao Jianhua, who met Mr Duterte on Monday night.

China was also offering US$500 million in soft loans for larger purchases, he added.

REACHING OUT

They want to help us fight terrorism and drugs… (The Chinese ambassador) told the President, 'I know your problems about terrorism, drugs. We would like to help you'.

'PHILIPPINE DEFENCE MINISTER DELFIN LORENZANA, on China's offer of weapons and equipment.

"We will finalise the deal before the end of the year, and a technical working team will soon go there to look at the equipment," he said.

Mr Lorenzana said he expected the weapons and equipment to be delivered by the second quarter of next year . "They want to help us fight terrorism and drugs… (The Chinese ambassador) told the President, 'I know your problems about terrorism, drugs. We would like to help you'," he said.

The mercurial Philippine leader has been turning to Beijing for aid, as Washington blocks arms sales and suspends funding to Manila over thousands of extra-judicial killings that have blighted his anti- crime drive.

Latest available data shows more than 2,100 suspects have been killed in police operations since Mr Duterte - who won the presidential election on a promise to eradicate crime and corruption - took office on June 30. It is believed that a further 4,000 were killed by vigilantes or in purges within criminal gangs.

The United States has been openly critical of Mr Duterte's bloody crackdown on crime. In October, the State Department blocked the sale of 26,000 M4 rifles to the Philippine police, after Senator Ben Cardin expressed concern over Mr Duterte's human rights record.

Last week, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a US agency, announced that it had put off a decision on whether to continue giving to the Philippines, after an initial five-year package worth more than US$430 million expired in May.

Mr Duterte has responded by raining profanities on the US.

On Monday, he called the US "a land of hypocrisy", claiming that it has 40,000 drug-related killings each year, and that it supplied weapons that ended up with drug cartels.

Instead, he has heaped praise on China.

For now he has set aside an international ruling in favour of Manila that struck down Beijing's vast claims to the South China Sea.

Mr Duterte on Monday said he was willing to explore for oil with the Chinese in contested waters.

"If (the Chinese) want to, let's just explore for oil (in the South China Sea). We can split it," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2016, with the headline 'Philippines to get $21m worth of Chinese arms'. Print Edition | Subscribe