President Duterte poses with Chinese sailors during yesterday’s tour of the Chinese warship Chang Chun docked at the Sasa Port in Davao City.
Rody open to military exercises with China in Sulu Sea
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - May 2, 2017 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - President Duterte is open to holding joint military drills with China as the administration seeks closer ties with Beijing despite conflicting maritime claims in the South China Sea.

“Yes, I said I agree. We can have a joint exercise here in Mindanao, maybe in the Sulu Sea,” the President told reporters in Davao City yesterday after touring the Chinese warship Chang Chun.

Duterte’s statement came a week before the start of joint exercises between the Philippines and the US, which have been scaled down after the President rejected the holding of war games with American troops. The Balikatan exercises from May 8 to 16 would focus on humanitarian drills, officials said.

Duterte said the visit of the three Chinese vessels in Davao City was part of “confidence-building” between the Philippines and China.

Guided missile destroyer Chang Chun, guided missile frigate Jin Zhou and replenishment ship Chao Hu arrived in Sasa Wharf last Sunday for a port call that came hours after the closing of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit.

“It is part really of… confidence building and goodwill and to show that we are friends. That’s why I welcomed them here and I was the one who asked, ‘you show me your warships,’” the President said. “Any violence now would result only in both sides losing. There is no winner actually.”

Duterte described Chang Chun as “very impressive,” “clean” and “carpeted.”

“In my term maybe I will try to make something like this. But it has to be as beautiful as this. It was carpeted. You won’t see any oil. It’s all carpet after carpet. It was very beautiful. Inside, it’s like a luxury hotel,” he said. Duterte said he saw an array of arms inside the ship, which was run by a computer.

“Look at the way the missile launchers are pointed at us. It will be lowered a little on the angle, sabog tayo dito lahat (we will blow up),” he said.

Duterte also defended his plan to repair facilities in Pag-asa, the second largest island in the disputed Spratlys chain controlled by the Philippines.

Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua said on Sunday that the Philippine government’s plan to improve the facilities in Pag-asa is “illegal.”

“Well, they can always look the (other) way. We have been there since 1974 by the way,” Duterte said.

Despite the Chinese envoy’s comments, Duterte said the projects in Pag-asa would push through. “That is part of our duty as a nation,” he said.

The government has allotted around P1.6 billion for the development of Pag-asa – including the construction of a beaching ramp, fish port, radio station, ice plant, water desalination facility, sewage facility and houses for soldiers.

Meanwhile, despite Duterte’s repeated pronouncements that the country’s puny military was no match for Chinese military might, the Philippine Navy defeated yesterday China People’s Liberation Army (PLA) – in goodwill games of basketball and tug-of-war at the Eastern Mindanao Naval Forces grounds in Camp Panacan.

Eastern Mindanao Command information officer Major Ezra Balagtey told The STAR that Chinese Navy personnel belonging to the Task Group 150 succumbed to local sailors in two of three basketball games and tug-of-war.

Beaten by the Filipinos were the crew of the three Chinese naval vessels which arrived in Davao on Sunday.

Rear Adm. Shen Hao, the deputy commander of the East Sea Fleet and concurrent commander-in-chief of the PLA Navy Task Group 150, heads the flotilla.

The visit, the first in seven years by a Chinese Naval vessel, is aimed at expanding communication, promoting cooperation and improving friendship between the Philippine Navy and the Chinese Navy.

The Chinese flotilla leaves tomorrow for the next leg of its ASEAN tour. – Edith Regalado, Pia Lee-Brago

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