Duterte opposes military drills in South China Sea


MANILA, Philippines — Claiming that it would only create tension among claimants states, President Rodrigo Duterte declared that he is not in favor of military drills in the disputed South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea.

Speaking to reporters in Singapore, Duterte warned the United States against creating "friction" that could "turn things wrong."

The US Navy has been conducting patrols in the South China Sea as part of its freedom of navigation operations in the region. China has been hostile toward Washington's activities, accusing the latter of violating their sovereignty and infringing security.

"I said China is already in possession. It's now in their hands so why do you have to create frictions... military activity that will prompt a response to China," Duterte said.

Duterte added that he does not mind if other countries would engage in war as long as the Philippines will not be involved.

"The Philippines is just beside those islands and if there's a shooting there, my country will be first to suffer. That is my only national interest there, nothing else," the president said.

Beijing has installed surface-to-air missiles, anti-cruise ship missiles and electronic jamming equipment on its artificial islands in the Spratly group, which are also being claimed by the Philippines.

The president made these remarks a month after the Philippines participated in a China-led maritime exercise with other Southeast Asian countries in the South China Sea.

China proposed the joint maritime exercises with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to "build trust, confidence," according to Singapore Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen.

Duterte appears to echo China's rhetoric against the US military's activities in the region when Beijing itself has been conducting naval drills in the area.

Washington has been consistent on its position that it "will fly, sail and operate wherever international law permits."

US National Security Advisor John Bolton earlier said that the US Navy is increasing its patrols in the South China Sea and is prepared to build up its capabilities. The Chinese navy surpasses the resources of the Philippines, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries which also have claims in the disputed waterway. — Patricia Lourdes Viray

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