Temper behaviour in South China Sea, Duterte tells China

Manila: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has urged China to temper its behaviour in the disputed areas of South China Sea.

In a speech delivered on Tuesday night at the presidential palace, Duterte, who has sought improved ties with Beijing since taking office two years ago, called on China to respect countries’ right of passage through waters Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands.

He said that it was “wrong” that China claims these disputed waters as its territories since they are “considered a part of international sea” and “the right of innocent passage is guaranteed”, according to the official transcript of a speech provided on Wednesday.

“You cannot create an island. It’s man-made and you say that the air above these artificial islands is yours,” Duterte was cited as saying by Efe news.

Despite a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) two years ago which attributed the rights in the area to Manila, Beijing went on to occupy the territories and build large artificial islands with military facilities.

“They have to rethink that, because that would be a flashpoint someday and even, you know, warning others,” he said.

In recent weeks, the Philippines media has published videos and recordings of radio transmissions in which the Chinese Coast Guards, in a threatening tone, asked foreign boats to leave the disputed waters.

The Philippines, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei claim all or parts of the Spratly Islands, but Beijing has built artificial islands on the reefs to de facto appropriate them.

This is the first time that Duterte has openly condemned the Chinese military presence in the disputed Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands.

During his two years in office, he chose not to explicitly claim Manila’s rights over them, by virtue of the favourable ruling of the PCA, in exchange for Chinese investment.

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