MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte does not only admire China’s warship, the chief executive is also open to conducting joint military exercises with a country that has an on-going maritime dispute with the Philippines.
As the President visited on Monday one of three Chinese vessels docked at the Sasa Wharf in Davao City, Duterte took delight in what he saw: China’s guided missile destroyer Chang Chun was spotless and could very well be a relaxing abode for travelers and tourists.
“Very impressive. It’s clean and…all carpeted inside. It’s like a hotel, actually. Sabi ko nga [I said], ‘Is there a room for a guest?’ Sabi ko [I said], ‘Can I use it?’”
“In my term I’ll try to make something of this,” added Duterte.
Wearing a cap given to him by the commander of the Chinese vessel after visiting Chang Chun, Duterte said he had told Chinese authorities that he was amenable to having war games with China in Southern Philippines.
“I said I agree. We can have here in Mindanao, maybe in Sulu Sea,” he said.
The three warships of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy Task Group 150 arrived in the Philippines on Sunday, April 30, for a three-day goodwill visit.
The Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao said the visit was aimed at “expanding communication, promoting cooperation, and improving friendship” between Philippine and Chinese navies.
The Chinese vessels arrived in the country after the Philippines hosted the Association of Southeast Asian Summit (Asean).
On Saturday, April 29, Asean leaders wrapped up the summit with no indication of an agreement on how to address Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, a divisive issue in a region uncertain about its ties with the United States.
Six hours after Asean summit officially ended in Manila, no customary joint statement had been issued and it was unclear whether there was agreement over including references to China’s militarization and island-building in the hotly disputed waterway.
Asean references to the South China Sea issue typically do not name China. Beijing is extremely sensitive to anything it perceives as a veiled reference to its expansion of its seven manmade islands in the Spratly archipelago, including with hangers, runways, radars and missiles.
This year’s summit came at a time of uncertainty about U.S. interests in the region and whether it would maintain its maritime presence to counter Chinese assertiveness that has often put the region on edge.
On Sunday, April 28, Duterte said it was useless to force the issue on the Philippines’ 2016 legal victory against China before the UN Arbitral Court.
This was because China wasn’t recognizing the international court’s ruling that certain areas within the South China Sea were within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and the Philippines was not ready to go to war with China to defend its right over the maritime territories.
“You cannot (include it in the Asean talks) unless we are prepared to go to war. Gano’n lang ‘yan eh [That’s how it is],” Duterte told reporters.
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