The Philippines has announced that it is prepared to go to war with China if it crosses “red lines” and starts to claim natural resources in the disputed South China Sea.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said on Tuesday that his country is ready to protect its rights in the South China Sea.
“If anyone gets the natural resources in the West Philippine Sea, he will go to war,” said Cayetano in reference to Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte.
According to a 2016 international arbitration ruling, China has no historic rights in the South China Sea.
Cayetano said that Manila’s red lines include any Chinese construction at the Scarborough Shoal or any attempts to remove a dilapidated Philippine warship, the BRP Sierra Madre, from Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed Spratly Islands.
“Another red line is that nobody will get natural resources there on their own,” he said. “Our soldiers should not be harassed when they deliver supplies or when they repair the runways” on Spratly’s Thitu Island, the biggest of the Philippine-administered territories in the disputed region, he added.
Cayetano remarks contradict Duterte’s policy of avoiding any confrontation with China.
Since coming into power some two years ago, Duterte tried to seek rapprochement and cooperation with China, and he is avoiding enforcing the 2016 Hague tribunal ruling.
“If we go to a full-blown war, where would the Philippines end up? Why would I give away the lives of my soldiers and policemen in a battle which I cannot win?” said Duterte.
“China and the Philippines should continue to properly address the South China Sea issue and explore cooperation in joint exploitation and development at an appropriate time, making the South China Sea a sea of cooperation and friendship,” said a recent Chinese Foreign Ministry statement.
The Philippines’ announcement comes at a time of heightened tensions over the disputed South China Sea islands.
On Sunday, China dispatched warships and scrambled fighter jets to ward off US two US-guided-missile destroyers which sailed close to disputed region.
China’s Defense Ministry released a statement on Sunday, in which it announced that its ships and aircraft had been deployed to ward off the US ships which had entered the country’s territorial waters without permission.
It added that the Paracel Islands were are an inherent part of China’s territory, and that Beijing resolutely opposes the US actions which go against Chinese and international laws.
The statement was released shortly after the Higgins guided-missile destroyer and the Antietam, a guided-missile cruiser, came within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands on Sunday.
The islands are among a string of islets, reefs and shoals over which China has territorial disputes with its neighboring countries.
China has repeatedly warned the United States against sending warships to patrol the South China Sea. Washington claims such operations are meant to protect “freedom of navigation” in the sea, a gateway for trillions of dollars in maritime trade each year.
China’s island-building in the South China Sea has also drawn criticism from the US, which accuses Beijing of undertaking a land reclamation program to build artificial islands, which could be used as military bases.
However, Beijing, which claims almost the entire South China Sea, has denied the allegations and says any military activities on the islands have been for self-defense purposes.
Washington’s military presence in the region, halfway around the world, has also led to worries about an increasing risk of accidental collisions that could spark a consequential wider conflict.