Duterte warns of 'reckoning' with China

Philippine President signals more aggressive stance if South China Sea row isn't resolved

"It will be bloody" if China attacks the Philippines, says Mr Duterte.
"It will be bloody" if China attacks the Philippines, says Mr Duterte.

MANILA • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warned yesterday of a "reckoning" with China if there was no resolution to a tense dispute over rival claims to the South China Sea.

An international tribunal ruled last month that China's claims to most of the strategically vital waters had no legal basis, in what was seen as a sweeping victory for the Philippines, which filed the case.

Mr Duterte had said repeatedly that he did not want to anger China with an aggressive response, and sent an envoy to ease tensions, but yesterday he signalled he was prepared to adopt a more confrontational approach.

"We will not raise hell now because of the judgment but there will come a time that we will have to do some reckoning about this," he said in a speech to soldiers at a military camp.

China, which has in recent years undertaken giant land reclamation works in disputed parts of the sea, has vowed to ignore the ruling. It has called for direct talks with the Philippines, but said it will not compromise on its claims.

Mr Duterte said the Philippines had not "insisted" on the judgment, but signalled that stance would change.

"They (China) better come up with what they really want. Because whether we like it or not, that arbitral judgment would be insisted (on) not only by the Philippines but by the whole countries here in South-east Asia," he said.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to the sea, which is believed to sit atop vast gas reserves.

Mr Duterte also warned China, which has vastly superior armed forces, against attacking the Philippines. "I guarantee to them, if you are the ones who enter here, it will be bloody and we will not give it to them easily. It will be the bones of our soldiers and even my own."

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay said yesterday the territorial dispute has not caused his country to rebalance diplomatic ties with either its ally, the United States, or China.

"We want to make close friendship with China. It does not mean that we'll weaken our friendship with the United States," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2016, with the headline 'Duterte warns of 'reckoning' with China'. Subscribe