By Alexis Romero
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – The United States should be blamed for failing to thwart China’s expansion in the South China Sea, President Duterte said yesterday.
The US failure to stop China’s island-building showed there was no serious concern about its militarization or reclamation work.
The firebrand leader reiterated he wanted to avoid confrontation with China and saw no need for urgency in pressing it to abide by a July ruling by an international tribunal on its South China Sea claims that went in favor of the Philippines.
Asked during a television interview when he would address the issue, Duterte said it would happen “during my time” but he was not yet ready to discuss the ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague and neither was China.
He said he had no intention of aggressively pursuing the Philippine maritime claim and taking on China and the only power capable of doing so was the United States.
“I cannot let it pass and be neglected,” he told CNN Philippines, referring to the ruling that rejected China’s extensive claims in the South China Sea.
“But are you ready to talk with me now? Because if you are not, I am not ready,” he said, referring to China.
Duterte made a stunning U-turn in foreign policy a few months ago when he made overtures towards longtime rival China and started berating traditional ally the United States.
He has previously played down the arbitration case, saying it would “take a back seat” during his talks in China last October.
He has frequently praised China and said he wants it to play a prominent role in his economy.
Duterte also played down concerns that China was militarizing the South China Sea and appeared unperturbed by its dredging work and building activity on reefs, several of which are within Manila’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Asked if he was worried, he said: “No. Because if it was really a serious concern, then the United States should lead the way and stop it.
“I said, right at the beginning, when the first spray of soil was tossed out to the area they (China) reclaimed, why did their (US) think tank not think?”
Duterte said the one situation where he would take a stand against China was if it were to start exploiting natural resources within Philippine sovereign territory.
He likened it to children bickering over inheritance.
The Philippines has within its EEZ deposits of oil and gas but lacks the expertise or resources to exploit them. It has also been complicated by China laying claim to the same waters.
“When the minerals are already being siphoned out,” he said when asked under what condition he would challenge China.
“(It’s a) question of money. ‘Wait a minute, I thought we’re friends. We share economic bounties … so how about us? I have this title, so what do you think? Don’t you think we should talk now?’” he said.
“The wealth that comes out there, it is like inheritance when your father and mother die, that is a mess.”
Duterte said Thursday he will insist on a ruling of an international arbitration that invalidated Beijing’s claims to most of the South China Sea if China starts to extract oil or gas from the area.
His statement was a departure from his earlier pronouncement that he would “set aside” the ruling because he does not want to impose on China.
Duterte, who took office in June, has taken steps to mend relations with China that grew hostile during the time of his predecessor over the long-unresolved territorial disputes.
Former president Benigno Aquino III’s administration took the disputes to international arbitration after China seized a disputed shoal from the Philippines in 2012, then went on to construct seven man-made islands despite international objections.
China has refused to recognize the arbitration tribunal, saying it has no jurisdiction. – With AP