MANILA - Malacañang on Thursday stressed that President Rodrigo Duterte has been consistent in his policy towards China, as the chief executive has been issuing increasingly combative statements against Beijing in the past days.
Manila and Beijing have been locked in a bitter dispute over the South China Sea, a vital sea lane where trillions of dollars worth of trade passes through annually.
But since assuming the presidency, Duterte sought to downplay Manila’s maritime dispute with Beijing in exchange for improved ties with the world’s second-largest economy.
The President’s tone, however, seemed to have changed recently, when he criticized China for its “nasty” warnings to Filipino pilots conducting patrols over the Spratly Islands.
“He has never been changing tune. He has been consistent. It’s just that there’s no point in openly picking up a fight with China because it is counterproductive," said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque when asked whether the President was modifying his stance towards China.
“Our position is we will not give up territory, but we will now move on areas we can agree upon and maintain status quo in areas we cannot agree upon,” he added.
In a speech in Cebu City Tuesday, Duterte said in jest he would send Interior department head Eduardo Año, a former military chief, to attack the Chinese if they will exploit resources in South China Sea without the Philippines’ permission.
Duterte and Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano have drawn criticism for Manila’s meek policy towards China. The top diplomat has, however, said the Philippines has been quietly taking diplomatic actions against Chinese incursions in the disputed waters.
Meanwhile, Roque said any report of possible nuclear weapons entering the region will be viewed by the Philippines as a cause for concern.
This, after the Pentagon warned over China's supposed plan to introduce nuclear power plants on disputed reefs in the South China Sea.
"We are concerned about the entry of any and all nuclear weapons into the Philippine territory because our Constitution provides that we [should be] a nuclear-free zone," he said.
"The important point to underscore is we have a nuclear-free policy and that should be applied to any country. The concern is against all possible nuclear carrying vessels from all countries."