The White House on Tuesday accused China of “bullying tactics” in the increasingly tense waters of the South China Sea, as President Rodrigo Duterte continued to take a more assertive posture day ahead of his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“China’s recent escalation of efforts to intimidate others out of developing resources in the South China Sea is disturbing,” President Donald Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton tweeted.
“The United States stands firmly with those who oppose coercive behavior and bullying tactics which threaten regional peace and security.”
China has been accused of deploying warships, arming island outposts and ramming fishing vessels in the resource-rich sea, also contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
Washington has repeatedly criticized China’s attempts to exert growing dominance in the disputed waters, but Bolton’s latest broadside comes as the two economic superpowers face off in a damaging trade war.
Duterte, who has been criticized for appeasing Beijing, said Wednesday he would insist on invoking Manila’s 2016 arbitral victory over China in his talks with Xi.
“If I am not allowed as president of a sovereign nation to talk about what I want, then let’s not talk altogether,” Duterte said Wednesday in a speech in Romblon during the inauguration of a solar power project.
“Do not control my mouth because it is a gift from God,” he said.
In his fifth trip to Beijing from Aug. 28 until Sept. 2, Duterte has vowed to assert the ruling of the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration which rejected China’s sweeping maritime claims in South China Sea.
China, which claims almost the entire area, has refused to recognize the ruling that favored the Philippines.
Duterte has not invoked the arbitral ruling in the last three years, preferring to seek friendlier relations with Beijing. But the Chinese have been increasingly aggressive in the South China Sea, including areas held or claimed by the Philippines, leaving Duterte open to criticism of being too soft on China.
Duterte said he would not pick a fight with China, just talk.
“As what you said, we talk to resolve this problem peacefully. Now tell me how do we start to solve the problem peacefully. There has got to be something,” Duterte said.
“You just cannot talk air. They said don’t bring it up. I said no… Whether you like it or not, whether it will make you happy or not, I’m sorry. But we have to talk about the arbitral ruling,” he added.
The Department of Foreign Affairs recently filed several diplomatic protests against China for the passage of its warships through Philippine waters without notifying the government while their identification systems were switched off.
On Wednesday, Duterte required passing foreign vessels to seek permission first from government, adding non-compliance may force the Philippines to act in an “unfriendly manner.”
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senator Panfilo Lacson supported the President’s stand on the passage of foreign vessels.
“I totally support this,” Zubiri said. “As a sovereign nation, we should be treated and respected as one.”
Lacson said the President’s message is unequivocal and clear, and deserves everybody’s support.
In his dialogue with Xi, Duterte is also expected to raise the joint exploration between the Philippines and China of oil-rich areas in the disputed islands. With Macon Ramos-Araneta and AFP