With Donald Trump and Xi Jinping meeting in Florida, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has made sure that he doesn’t fall too far out of the headlines by ordering military personnel to occupy all the uninhabited islands in the disputed South China Sea that are claimed by the Philippines.
“We tried to be friends with everybody but we have to maintain our jurisdiction now, at least the areas under our control. And I have ordered the armed forces to occupy all these,” Duterte said while visiting a military camp in Palawan.
“Even those, those vacant (islands) that are considered ours, let’s live there,” Duterte continued. “It’s like we’re all competing to take these islands. And what’s ours now at least, let’s take it and make a strong point there that this is ours.”
In order to further reinforce the Philippines’ claim over the territory, Duterte instructed soldiers to start building bunkers or houses on the islands. He even speculated that he might commemorate his country’s independence day on June 12 by raising a flag on Pagasa Island (Thitu Island), which is part of the Spratlys, an island chain also claimed by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
Duterte’s hot-tempered remarks would appear to work against the friendly rapport he has been trying to build with China since taking office last year. Duterte made a trip to Beijing last October in which he announced his “separation” from the United States and realignment with China and Russia, agreeing that Manila and Beijing could “temporarily put aside” their differences in the South China Sea and work to improve bilateral ties.
Immediately after Duterte’s visit, Phiippines fishing boats were allowed back into the China-controlled waters around the disputed Scarborough Shoal.
The Global Times spoke to an “expert” who believes that pressure from pro-US forces is behind Duterte’s change in attitude, while also conceding: “Actually the islands he mentioned are already under the control of the Philippines. It’s natural if the Philippines deploys troops on these islands.”
In comparison, China has filled the South China Sea islands that it controls with soldiers, tourists, planes, missiles, musicians, and veggie gardens.
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