MANILA (UPDATED) - President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday revealed that China warned his administration of war if Manila will insist on its ownership of areas in the disputed South China Sea.
Duterte said the Chinese side issued the warning after he expressed the Philippines' intent to drill oil in the resource-rich waters.
It was initially unclear in the president’s speech who issued the warning and when. But Duterte said at the latter part of his speech that he asserted the Philippines' right to its exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea to Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The president held bilateral talks with Xi on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation last week.
“I said, Mr. Xi Jinping, I will insist that it is ours and we will drill oil,” Duterte said in a speech in Davao City.
“Sinabi ko talaga harap-harapan, that is ours and we intend to drill oil there. My view is I can drill the oil. Ang sagot sa akin, ‘Well we are friends. We don’t want to quarrel with you. We want to maintain warm relationship, but if you force the issue we will go to war.’ Ano pa bang sabihin ko?”
China's military is one of the world's most powerful.
Duterte, appearing to be sharing the details of his talks with Xi, said the Chinese leader insisted that China has “historical” ownership of the disputed sea that can be traced back to the Ming Dynasty, but the Filipino leader shot back by saying such a claim is “alien” to Filipinos.
“Pinaga-awayan natin, ‘akin ito’. Sabi mo, ‘iyo ‘yan.’ Eh sabi ko, ‘atin ito, I’ll drill the oil.’ Sabi niya, ‘please do not do that because that is ours.’ ‘That is according to you.’ ‘But I have the arbitral.’ ‘Yes, but ours is historical and yours is legal of recent memory,’” Duterte said.
“‘Amin mga Ming, Ming dynasty pa.’ ‘But that’s too far away. It’s almost alien to us to hear those words because we were never under Chinese jurisdiction.’ Sabi niya, ‘Well, if you force the issue, we’ll be forced to tell you the truth.’ ‘So what is the truth?’ ‘We will go to war. We will fight you.’”
Duterte said the threat of an armed confrontation with China is the reason why he has chosen to pursue friendly relations with the Asian giant, instead of being adversarial.
He said the Philippines will lose against China if the two countries declare war with each other. He also doubts that any country, even treaty ally U.S., would come to the Philippines’ help.
“Are they willing to fight? Because if they are willing to fight, we are. But kung ako lang, why would I do that? It will result in a massacre and it will just destroy everything. Ang unang sasabog diyan ‘yung Palawan,” he said.
DUTERTE SLAMS EX-DFA CHIEF, SC JUSTICE
Duterte revealed the details of his supposed talks with Xi in response to criticisms by former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario and Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.
Del Rosario and Carpio led the Philippines’ legal team in its arbitration case against China. In July last year, a Hague-based arbitral tribunal handed the Philippines a landmark arbitral victory against China, as the United Nations-backed court invalidated Beijing's sweeping nine-dash line claim over the disputed waters.
The two have criticized the Duterte administration's China policy.
Duterte also blamed the Aquino administration and the U.S. for not allegedly doing enough to prevent China from building artificial islands in the Spratlys archipelago in the South China Sea.
“Ito sila Del Rosario and the rest of the guy, itong lahat na, magdadaldal lang, where were they? If it was really ours in the beginning, it was really ours. That’s why we went to the international arbitration court,” Duterte said.
“But just instead of filing a case, the Philippines should have called America for an urgent conference and the rest of the ASEAN countries claiming a part of that vast sea there to discuss what we will do and to cut it in the nip in the bud.”
The President made this claim just as representatives from the the Philippines and China met Friday in Guiyang, China for inaugural bilateral discussions on the dispute.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China have also finished drafting the framework for the code of conduct in the South China Sea.
The binding code of conduct, which shall replace the non-binding 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, will lay down the rules for all claimant states.
Since assuming the presidency, Duterte has pursued warmer ties with Beijing despite the sea dispute, aiming to boost economic ties with one of the world's largest economies.
At his ASEAN debut hosting, the concluding leaders' statement was silent on China's militarization and island-building activities in the South China Sea.
The statement also did not mention the Philippines' landmark arbitral victory over China.
Four ASEAN members- the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei- have partial claims in the resource-rich waters, overlapping with China's sweeping claims.