Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte claims he quarreled with China after Chinese military tried to drive away Philippine Navy planes flying over the disputed South China Sea last month.
“We had a little bit of … not really animosity but when the Navy was approaching the area, they shouted: ‘You Filipinos, you get there, you will be causing trouble.’ They did that even if we are friends,” Duterte said during a recently reported interview with his chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo last week, appearing in the Philippine Star Wednesday. “We have a claim there … In the eyes of the world, that’s ours, not theirs.”
The comments come over a month after the BBC released footage of Chinese troops warning a Philippine military plane to leave an area where China has constructed artificial islands, despite the Philippines also claiming the area.
“Philippine military aircraft. I’m warning you again. Leave immediately or you will bear responsibility for all the consequences,” a Chinese officer says through the radio signal.
Duterte backed down on his recent claim that he was willing to go to war with China over the matter, warning that it would lead to the “slaughter” of Filipino troops.
“I cannot make a move to remove them forcibly, because I’ll end up in a war, which we will be losing,” Duterte explained. “If I tell you ‘let’s go for it,’ will you survive? It will result in a slaughter. We thought about me. Not just me. Even the military officials in my cabinet.”
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque downplayed the incident, stating that Duterte may have just “lost his temper.”
“It was not really a quarrel but perhaps he lost his temper, that’s a better expression. He lost his temper because of the reported warning given to our pilots flying over the area that is ours,” Roque said at a press briefing Wednesday. “The contentious issues can be set aside. We can move forward on issues … there is no change in our policy.”
Since becoming president in 2016, Duterte has become the target of internal criticism for his failure to stand up to China’s imperialist ambitions, which has included increased militarization and opening up operations designed to extract the area’s most precious natural resources.
Instead, he has developed warm diplomatic relations with Beijing in an effort to promote trade ties while increasing support and investment and has even joked that the Philippines could become a Chinese province.
According to a survey released in July, over 70 percent of Filipinos want Duterte to step up his country’s territorial claims in the region, while a majority of Filipinos have far greater trust in their relationship with the United States than that of China.