President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said he will no longer plant the Philippine flag in Kalayaan town in the disputed Spratlys archipelago because China won't like it.
"I would like to correct myself along the way dito. I said I will go to the island of Kalayaan, Pag-asa on June 12 to raise the Filipino flag there," Duterte said in a meeting with the Filipino community in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he is in a two-day state visit.
"If every heads of state of the contending parties around the West Philippine Sea will go there to plant their flags, there will likely be trouble. Because of our friendship with China, I will not go there to raise the Philippine flag," Duterte said.
"Maybe I will send my son just to show that the blood of the claimant, ibig sabihin kadugo ko na iyong nandiyan, amin iyan."
"Sabi ng China, 'In the meantime, huwag ka munang pumunta doon. Just do not go there, please?' Sabi ko, 'Yes, I will correct myself. Because we value the friendship of China.'"
While campaigning for president last year, Duterte said he would "ride a jet ski while bringing the Philippine flag" to the contested area.
Duterte also said earlier that he wanted to claim unoccupied areas in the disputed sea but China said no.
"If there's a ruckus there, there's war, somebody might use it as a base for a battery of missiles so I'm claiming it. And I said I'm not going to put any offensive weapons. Atin na iyon," Duterte said on Wednesday.
"Sabi ko the 10 remaining islands there, agawan ito ng lupa. Sige na pasok na iyong Taiwanese, Vietnamese. They're having trouble there. Iyong mga islands doon natin na hindi pa occupied, sabi ko kay General (Hermogenes) Esperon pati kay Chief of Staff (General Eduardo Año) pati kay (Defense) Secretary Lorenzana, occupy the island."
"Unahan na natin, lagyan na natin ng flag, atin na iyan. Kasi agawan na ito."
But he withheld those plans because Beijing rejected the move.
"Tapos ang China sent word na, 'Please do not do that,'" Duterte said.
He earlier set off alarm bells when he said he had ordered troops to occupy uninhabited islets and shoals that the Philippines claims in the Spratly Islands.
Philippine officials later said plans were to upgrade existing facilities and not occupy new territories.
China claims most of the South China Sea through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes annually. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam also have claims.
Duterte has turned Philippine foreign policy upside down by making overtures towards China and fiercely rebuking traditional ally the United States. Duterte wants China to be a major investor in the Philippines.
Duterte puts the blame for current maritime tensions squarely on Washington, for not intervening to stop China building and arming artificial islands in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying has said that there was "close and effective communication" between Beijing and Manila. - with a report from Reuters