China donated four military boats and 30 rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) to the Philippines, the Philippine government announced Monday.
“The Philippine Navy thru the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] General Headquarters has accepted the donation from the [People’s Republic of China] four patrol boats,” Philippine Navy spokesperson Commander Jonathan Zata said in a statement released to press, adding that they had also received 30 RPGs.
“The equipment provided are being assessed as to how this can be integrated within the organization and supported in the long term in terms of logistics,” he continued.
The donation follows years of tensions between the Philippines and China triggered by Beijing’s colonization of the Spratly Islands, which Vietnam and the Philippines share. As president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte has attempted to quiet outrage at China and instead try to attract greater investment and closer trade ties and has joked the Philippines may soon be a Chinese province.
Duterte has long been subject to criticism for his failure to challenge China’s ambitions in the South China Sea as Beijing continues to expand its naval and coast guard presence in the area while also mining it of its most precious natural resources.
A survey this month by the independent Stratbase ADR Institute found that 73 percent of Philippine respondents want Duterte to step up the country’s territorial claims in the area, whose other claimants include Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Duterte has previously insisted that he would “go to war” over the issue, even as he joked that he would also see the Philippines become a colony of China.
China’s donations remain insignificant compared to military assistance provided by the United States, which has been allied militarily with the Philippines since the 1950s. In the past five years alone, the State Department has provided $282 million in military aid, including drones, ships, surveillance planes, assault rifles, and ammunition, while the two countries regularly hold military drills.
Duterte’s warmness to China contrasts with his hostility towards the U.S., which he has previously described as a “lousy country.” In June, Jonathan Miller, the author of the first biography of Duterte, said that the 73-year-old strongman was driven by a personal animosity towards America and was angered by criticism of his human rights record.
Duterte did meet with President Donald Trump last November. Trump later told reporters that the two leaders had built a “great relationship.” The same survey by the ADR Institute also found that 74 percent of Filipinos have greater trust in the United States than any other country, compared to just 17 percent who have greater trust in China.