MANILA - The Philippine government on Monday said it will continue to maintain ties with China following a newspaper report that showed Beijing has nearly finished military installations in the South China Sea.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Manila will continue to pursue friendly ties with Beijing and not wage a war with the Asian power.
“This ‘militarization’, if you can call it militarization, did not happen during the Duterte administration alone. It’s been long militarized,” Roque said in a news conference.
“What can we do? Right now, the posture of the President is to maintain close ties [with China] so they won’t have any reason to use those arms in those islands.”'
Beijing has almost finished building military installations in the seven reefs claimed by Manila in the Spratly archipelago, according to a Philippine Daily Inquirer report, in a move described by observers as part of China’s bid to cement its control over the contested waters.
Roque said that while Manila will not make a big deal out of China’s latest activities in its artificial islands, Beijing would be crossing a red line if it carries out new reclamation activities in the contested waters.
“Whether we like it [or not], they intended to use them as military bases, so what do you want us to say? All we could do is to extract a promise from China not to reclaim any new artificial islands,” he said.
“If the Aquino administration was not able to do anything about these artificial islands, what do you want us to do? We cannot declare war. Not only is it illegal, but it is also it is impossible for us to declare war at this point.”
Since assuming power, President Rodrigo Duterte has sought to downplay Manila’s South China Sea dispute with Beijing in pursuit of better economic ties with Asia’s largest economy.
China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims in the South China Sea where $5 trillion in trade goods pass annually. The area is also believed to contain oil and gas reserves.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China have agreed to start negotiations on a code of conduct on the South China Sea in March.