Manila won't go to war over Beijing's South China Sea activities: Duterte

MANILA • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte reiterated that he would not provoke China into a war following reports that the Chinese military landed long-range bombers on an airport in the South China Sea.

"You know they have the planes, not stationed in Spratly but near the provinces facing - Chinese provinces facing the Spratly and the China Sea. And with their hypersonic, they can reach Manila within seven to 10 minutes," Mr Duterte said in a speech last Saturday in Cebu, according to transcript e-mailed by his office yesterday .

Facing criticism over his apparent inaction on China's increasing military activity in the South China Sea, Mr Duterte questioned where his country would end up should war erupt in the region.

"What will we arm ourselves with if there's a war? Will we resort to slapping each other? I couldn't even buy myself a rifle. It was given to me. So how will we even fight with the Chinese?" he said.

Mr Duterte said there was no assurance that the United States would remain on the side of the South-east Asian nation if war broke out.

A more feasible solution would be to forge a joint exploration pact with China to harness the disputed sea's potential, he said.

Senator Panfilo Lacson called on the Philippine government last Saturday to act on China's militarisation of the disputed waters. He said the Philippines could seek the help of its ally countries to pressure China to stop its military activities. It could also insist on the United Nations arbitration ruling won by the Philippines in July 2016.

China issued a statement last Friday saying its air force has landed bombers on islands and reefs in the South China Sea as part of a training exercise in the disputed region.

"A division of the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) recently organised multiple bombers such as the H-6K to conduct take-off and landing training on islands and reefs in the South China Sea in order to improve our ability to 'reach all territory, conduct strikes at any time and strike in all directions'," it said.

It added that the pilot of the H-6K bomber conducted assault training on a designated sea target and then carried out take-offs and landings at an airport in the area, describing the exercise as preparation for "the West Pacific and the battle for the South China Sea".

The statement did not provide the precise location of the exercise.

Separately, the Philippines and the US have committed to bolstering joint efforts in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism by sharing military intelligence information, the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines said yesterday.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 21, 2018, with the headline 'Manila won't go to war over Beijing's South China Sea activities: Duterte'. Print Edition | Subscribe