Philippines staying out of latest US-China row

Philippine defence secretary Delfin Lorenzana (fourth from left) said the Philippines is staying out of the latest row between the United States and China over an unmanned underwater vehicle seized by a Chinese warship.
Philippine defence secretary Delfin Lorenzana (fourth from left) said the Philippines is staying out of the latest row between the United States and China over an unmanned underwater vehicle seized by a Chinese warship.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA • The Philippines is staying out of the latest row between the United States and China over an unmanned underwater vehicle seized by a Chinese warship.

"That is between the US and China," Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a text message to reporters. "We did not know the US is using one in SCS (South China Sea)," he added.

His comments came as President Rodrigo Duterte said yesterday that he would not press China on an international arbitral ruling on the South China Sea, which rejected China's vast claims in the disputed waters, according to the Inquirer.

"In the play of politics now, I will set aside the arbitral ruling," he said in Davao City. "I will not impose anything on China. Why? Because the politics here in South-east Asia is changing."

This is not the first time Mr Duterte has publicly said he would not insist on the arbitral tribunal ruling at The Hague in July, which ruled in favour of the Philippines in numerous areas, saying China's "nine-dash line" denoting its maritime sovereignty claims has no basis. It also declared the Scarborough Shoal a traditional fishing ground that all claimants were entitled to exploit.

Mr Duterte also threatened again to scuttle a defence pact with the United States, this time in response to American aid being deferred because of concerns about his deadly crime war, reported newswire agency AFP.

"Bye bye America," he said. "Tit for tat. If you can do this, so do we, it ain't one-way traffic."

Meanwhile, Malaysia and Vietnam have voiced concern over reports that China is placing military assets on islands in the South China Sea. Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said last Friday that he would write to his Chinese counterpart to seek clarification on reports that China appeared to have installed weapons, including anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, on seven artificial islands it has built in South China Sea.

"If the reports are true that China is placing military assets on the islands, it would force Malaysia into a 'pushback' against China," he was quoted as saying in The Star.

In Vietnam, Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said on Friday that "Vietnam is very worried about this information", reiterating his country's claims over the Spratlys, according to The Nation newspaper.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 18, 2016, with the headline 'Philippines staying out of latest US-China row'. Print Edition | Subscribe