The Philippines’ outspoken president Rodrigo Duterte got a glimpse of the true snarling, belligerent Chinese dragon hiding behind the cheerful, globalist Panda facade earlier this week, when in response to a claim that his country was prepared to drill for oil in a disputed part of the South China Sea, China’s president Xi told him matter-of-factly that in that case he should prepare for war.
In a meeting on Monday between the two presidents, Duterte asserted his nation’s sovereignty over disputed South China Sea territory citing last year’s ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration. “We intend to drill oil there, if it’s yours, well, that’s your view, but my view is, I can drill the oil, if there is some inside the bowels of the earth because it is ours,” Duterte said in a speech, recalling his conversation with Xi.
That prompted a surprisingly abrupt retort from Xi: “Well, if you force this, we’ll be forced to tell you the truth. We will go to war. We will fight you,” Duterte on Friday quoted Xi as saying.
The unexpectedly direct response, coming just days after China hoped to set the world at easy with its new globalist ambitions after it officially launched the Silk Road regional infrastructure project last week, caught China watchers by surprise. It stunned Duterted as well. The Philippine president has long expressed his admiration for Xi and said he would raise the arbitration ruling with him eventually, but needed first to strengthen relations between the two countries, which the Philippines is hoping will yield billions of dollars in Chinese loans and infrastructure investments.
Duterte recalled the same story about his discussion with Xi on oil exploration in a recorded television show aired moments after the speech. He said Xi told him “do not touch it” and added that Xi had promised that the arbitration ruling would be discussed in future, but not now. It most likely won’t be.
As a reminder, the Hague award from July 2016 clarified Philippine sovereign rights in its 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone to access offshore oil and gas fields, including the Reed Bank, 85 nautical miles off its coast. It also invalidated China’s nine-dash line claim on its maps denoting sovereignty over most of the South China Sea. China has repeatedly said it would not comply with the Court’s ruling, setting the stage for potential conflicts in the future between China and its neighbors.
Eager not to lose face domestically, Duterte said China did not want to bring up the arbitral ruling at a time when other claimant countries, like Vietnam, might also decide to file cases against it at the arbitration tribunal. It was not the first time the firebrand leader has publicly discussed the content of private meetings with other world leaders.
According to Bloomberg, Duterte’s remarks come just after China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations agreed on a draft framework for a code of conduct governing actions in the region. The countries exchanged views on “the importance of appropriately handling concerns, incidents and disputes involving the South China Sea”, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement that gave few details.
Judging by Duterte’s comments, China’s resolution protocol is simple: it’s either our way – which means you stay out of it completely – or war.
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