President Rodrigo Duterte said on Friday (May 19) that China has warned him it will go to war if the Philippines ”forces the issue” of ownership over parts of the South China Sea.
In a speech before members of the Philippine Coast Guard, he recounted telling Chinese President Xi Jinping that Manila wanted to drill for oil in the South China Sea, presumably inside Reed Bank, where a Philippine company had started exploration works.
“We intend to drill for oil there,” he recalled telling Mr Xi.
“If it’s yours, well, that’s your view. But my view is I can drill the oil, if there is some inside the bowels of the earth, because it is ours. His reply was: ‘We’re friends. We don’t want to quarrel with you … But if you force the issue, we’ll go to war’. What else was I supposed to say?” said Mr Duterte.
Mr Duterte has been criticised for not pushing China on an international court decision that ruled largely in favour of the Philippines’ claims in the South China Sea.
He said Mr Xi also explained to him that China would also have to go to war if the other claimants were to become as assertive as Vietnam in claiming ownership over parts of the South China Sea.
He said he was told: “‘If all the claimants will go there, we have to declare war because we will be fighting on all fronts’.”
China and Vietnam have figured in armed confrontations, as the two wrestled for control over parts of the Paracel island chain.
Mr Duterte’s remarks came the same day that China and the Philippines held their first session in a two-way consultation process on the South China Sea.
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