Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has said he is prepared to send warships to “stake a claim” over oil and mineral resources in the South China Sea, according to the South China Morning Post.
“If we go there to assert our jurisdiction, it will be bloody,” Duterte said in a televised briefing late on Monday, in his first remarks after hundreds of Chinese vessels were spotted at a disputed reef in March.
“I’m not so much interested now in fishing,” he said, “I’ll send five coastguard ships they can chase. They can play with each other and see who’s faster.
“But when we start to get whatever it is in the bowels of the China Sea, our oil, by that time I will send my grey ships there to stake a claim,” he said, referring to Philippine warships.
“If they start drilling oil there, I will tell China: Is that part of our agreement? If that is not part of our agreement, I will also drill oil there,” he said. “If they get the oil, that would be time that we should act on it.”
Since coming to power in 2016, Duterte has sought to build an alliance with China and has been reluctant to confront its leadership, having been promised billions of dollars of loans and investments, much of which have yet to materialise.
He has repeatedly said the Philippines is powerless to stop China, and that challenging its activities could risk a war his country would lose.
Tensions between the two nations have increased in recent weeks. Manila has repeatedly protested Beijing’s presence and has deployed more vessels in disputed areas, even as Duterte keeps a friendly stance, thanking China for supply of coronavirus vaccines.
China has said that its vessels’ presence in the South China Sea is normal and legitimate.
Washington has aired concerns over China’s “maritime militia” in the area, backing the Philippines, a long-time military ally. Duterte on Monday said the US will not come to the Philippines’ aid if the conflict is “of our own making”.
The Philippines has filed several diplomatic protests against China’s actions in the South China Sea, with the latest accusing its giant neighbour of undertaking illegal fishing and massing more than 240 boats within its territorial waters.
Manila last year lifted a ban on South China Sea oil exploration, paving the way for talks with China, even as the nations still have to navigate their overlapping claims in the area.