Rodrigo Duterte, who met this week in China with President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang, said he had decided to make public statements about threats that Beijing had made against his country on the issue Of the exploitation of the resources of the South China Sea. He justified his decision by asserting that he had been criticized in his country for being too conciliatory towards the Chinese leaders in this dispute.
“I told them opposite: it’s up to us and we intend to drill for oil,” said the Philippine president, revealing his intention to prospect for oil in this coveted area.
“They said,” Okay, we’re friends. We do not want to quarrel with you. We want to maintain our friendship. But if you insist on this issue, we will go to war, “he added.
A strategic zone very disputed
Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea, opposing the rival claims of the Philippines and other riparian countries (Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia), which each control several islands in this strategic area.
The South China Sea, a key sector for international maritime trade, has for decades been a potential area of military conflict due to these competing territorial claims. It would also contain vast reserves of gas and oil.
In a ruling handed down in July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration of the Hague, which had been seized by Rodrigo Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino, had ruled Beijing’s claims against the main part of this sea illegal. And warned Manila against any temptation to use it to support its claims
The Philippine president had previously taken the opposite side of Benigno Aquino, who was confronting China head on this issue, preferring to seek to improve economic, political and military relations with Beijing.
On his return from his trip to China, he declared on 16 May that he was ready to agree on an exploration of the natural resources of the South China Sea, jointly with China and Vietnam. He had stressed that he had no intention of putting pressure on China regarding the judgment of the Permanent Court of Arbitration of the Hague.