A day after requesting U.S. troops leave the south of the country, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte hinted at interest in buying weapons from rivals China and Russia and rejected the idea of joint naval patrols in disputed areas of the South China Sea.
“We will not join any expedition or patrolling the sea. I will not allow it because I do not want my country to be in involved in a hostile act,” Duterte said Tuesday, speaking before members of the Philippine Air Force at the Villamor Air Base. “I just want to patrol our territorial waters. We do not go into patrol or join any [foreign] army because I do not want trouble.”
“I do not want to ride gung-ho style there with China or with America. I just want to patrol our territorial waters,” he asserted.
Duterte also made the stunning revelation that he is considering purchasing weapons and military equipment from two nations that had offered to sell on a 25-year soft loan, sources “where they are cheap and where there are no strings attached and it is transparent.”
Bloomberg notes that the likely buyers are China and Russia, the nations the Philippines would need to use the weapons against if tension escalated in the South China Sea. Bloomberg adds for reference that Manila buys an estimated 3/4 of its arms from the United States currently and has for over half a century.
“China and Russia would rub their hands with glee for any opportunity to enter the market,” Jon Grevatt, a defense industry analyst at IHS Jane’s in Bangkok, tells the outlet.
Despite having developed a reputation internationally for eschewing diplomacy in exchange for incendiary rhetoric, Duterte has only attacked allies and global figures that do not pose a military threat to him, like President Barack Obama and Pope Francis, both of whom he has referred to as “son of a whore.” With China, which has actively antagonized the Philippines and usurped its sovereign territory in the South China Sea, Duterte has repeatedly exhibited a lack of willingness to engage.
China has constructed artificial islands and equipped them with military facilities in Philippine territory, notably the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Evidence suggests Chinese ships are dredging in the Scarborough Shoal, another Philippine territory, to do the same. Before Duterte’s tenure, his predecessor filed a case in the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague against China and won it. Duterte has repeatedly refused to bring up this international law victory in discussing the territory with China.
In response to the new evidence of construction at the Scarborough Shoal, Duterte has expressed only “concern,” without elaborating. “I have nothing against China now. I do not intend to raise the issue before the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] because if I do, there’s going to be a convoluted thing there, to each his own,” he said of the new construction.
China has not shown a similar opposition to joint patrols. On Monday, Beijing began joint navy exercises with the Russian military in the South China Sea. A Chinese naval spokesman confirmed the exercises, which will last a little more than a week, will involve “live-fire drills, sea crossing and island landing operations, and island defense and offense exercises.”
Duterte has not only expressed a desire to avoid joint exercises or patrols with foreign nations but has actively requested American soldiers leave the Philippine island of Mindanao. “The special forces, they have to go. They have to go in Mindanao. There are many whites there,” he said Monday, referring to the Islamic terrorists of Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic State affiliate native to the Philippines. “If they see an American, they would kill him… even if you’re a black or white American as long as you are an American, (they will kill you),” he insisted.
Duterte tried to walk back some of the sting of that statement Tuesday.
“We are not cutting our alliances. (We are not cutting) military (alliances) as well. But, certainly, we will follow an independent posture and independent foreign policy,” he said, in the same speech where he hinted at buying Chinese and Russian weapons.