By Genalyn Kabiling
President Duterte has urged China to “temper” its behavior in the South China Sea, saying the right of innocent passage of vessels and aircraft must be respected.
The President issued the statement following reports that China warned Philippine military aircraft against flying over the disputed region.
According to the President, no one could create artificial islands in international waters and claim ownership of the airspace.
“You cannot create an island, it’s man-made and you say that the air above the artificial islands is yours. That is wrong because those waters are what (one) considered international sea and the right of innocent passage is guaranteed,” Duterte said during a business forum in Malacañang.
“I hope that China would temper its behavior. I don’t want to quarrel with China,” he said.
The President stressed that it was important for China to “rethink” the South China Sea conflict “because that will be a flashpoint someday.” He cautioned that if China and the United States continue to fight, a “hot-head commander” might just press the trigger.
The Chinese Navy reportedly threatened a local military airplane when it flew over its man-made islands in the disputed region. China’s radio message asking the aircraft to leave or face consequences was overhead by a US Navy plane.
Duterte maintained that any ship does not need permission to sail through the open sea. “If it’s nearby territorial waters, you guarantee what you would call the right of innocent passage,” he said.
The comments follow allegations in May of Chinese harassment of Filipino troops at another South China Sea garrison.
There was no immediate response from the Chinese embassy in Manila.
In May, China landed several combat aircraft – including the long-range, nuclear-capable H-6K – at another island airfield in the sea for the first time, triggering international concern.
Despite this, it has denied militarizing the area, through which roughly a third of all global maritime trade passes.
The UN Arbitral Tribunal ruled early in Duterte’s presidency in 2016 that China’s claims to the area have no legal basis.
President Duterteassured the public anew that he would raise the country’s territorial dispute within China before his term ends.
He cited anew the country’s improved economic ties with China, which has not demanded anything from the nation.
“So it’s very clear that the gambit really is China Sea but one of these days, before my term ends I assure you I will talk to them,” he added.
The Philippines is a military ally of the US, which says it is not taking sides in the various South China Sea territorial disputes.
However, the US navy has forcefully asserted its right to freedom of navigation in the area, repeatedly sailing close to the man-made islands and drawing Chinese protests.
Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the sea.
ASEAN is pro-China
Meanwhile, Duterte said Southeast Asian countries are all “pro-China” due to the Asian giant’s generosity to them.
“I’ll tell you straight, the ASEAN countries, you try to befriend them and give aids and everything,”Duterte said in his remarks before an entrepreneurship forum Tuesday.
“In the ASEAN countries, I’ll tell you all of them except a – nothing… You want to read their sentiments? You want to know? Oh I will do it for you. They are all pro-China because China does not really…They give,” he said.
ASEAN is composed of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
China is one of the major dialogue partners of the regional bloc on trade, defense, and other areas of cooperation. (With reports from AFP)