Over the past few weeks, tensions have been high between the Philippines and China due to the presence of Chinese vessels near Whitson Reef, a disputed area in the South China Sea. Philippine officials have accused Beijing of massing a “maritime militia,” while China insists the vessels are fishing boats.
On Monday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte appeared to downplay the dispute around Whitson Reef but also warned he would dispatch the Navy to “stake a claim” over resources like oil.
“I’m not so much interested now in fishing. I don’t think there’s enough fish to quarrel about. But when we start to mine, when we start to get whatever it is in the bowels of the China Sea, our oil, by that time I will send my grey ships there to stake a claim,” Duterte said.
The Philippine leader also warned of the violence challenging Beijing’s claims with the military could cause. “If we go there to assert our jurisdiction, it will be bloody,” he said.
The US sided with the Philippines in its maritime dispute with Beijing in the South China Sea. Last year, the US formally rejected most of China’s claims to the waters, citing a 2016 international tribunal ruling that sided with Manila. The ruling was made under the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a treaty that the US has never ratified and is not a party to.
The Philippines’ dispute with China over Whitson Reef has led to US officials reminding Beijing that a naval dispute with Manila means war with the US. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan clarified in a conversation with his Philippine counterpart on March 31st that the South China Sea is covered by the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.