Manila, Philippines. The Philippine President has ordered his military to secure areas under development by Chinese military forces in the South Pacific area, raising concerns that conflict may break out between the two Asian nations with little or no warning.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s plans to deploy troops to islands in the disputed South China Sea and personally plant a flag there to indicate the country has tired of China’s maritime expansion. Duterte said Thursday he would send troops to nine developed shoals in the Spratly Island chain in the South China Sea just west of the main Philippine archipelago.
China voiced its surprise and concern about the latest development at a press briefing Friday. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Beijing is speaking with the Philippines about the security threat and hopes to resolve the matter soon.
Less than six months ago, Duterte had started to ease four years of Sino-Philippine hostility over maritime disputes with a visit to Beijing. President Duterte did not say how many troops he would send to the Spratlys, where at least one islet, called Pag-asa or Thitu, already bunks soldiers and has an airstrip.
Duterte told a news conference on March 13 he hoped to keep peace with China. He has said the Philippine armed forces lack the strength to fight China if needed.
“Let us not fight about ownership or sovereignty at this time, because things are going great for my country,” Duterte told the news conference, “I cannot match the might of China.”
China has angered the Philippines since 2012 by occupying Scarborough Shoal, a prime South China Sea fishing ground 198 kilometers west of Luzon Island. Beijing has alarmed the Philippines over the past five years by landfilling small islets for military use.