By ARGYLL GEDUCOS
SINGAPORE—President Duterte said he opposes any military drills in the disputed South China Sea, saying it will only create tension among claimants of the resource-filled waterway.
Duterte made the statement Thursday during the sidelines of the last day of the 33rd Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) Summit and related summits here.
In an interview, Duterte, who is also the head coordinator of the ASEAN-China dialogue partnership, said nations can count the Philippines out if they are planning to go to war over the South China Sea.
“No, because — it’s not military drills because I said China is already in possession. It’s now in their hands. So why do you have to create frictions — strong — military activity that will prompt a response from China?” Duterte said when asked if it is wise to hold military drills in the disputed waters.
“I do not mind everybody going to war, except that the Philippines is just beside those islands. And if there’s a shooting there, my country will be the first to suffer. That’s my only in — that is my only national interest there. Nothing else,” he added,
Meanwhile, Duterte said that he will do his best to usher in the completion of the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea.
“I’m the country coordinator for ASEAN-China. I will try my best. I made a very strong statement yesterday about the urgent need for a COC so that everybody will know,” he said.
According to Duterte, other countries should now accept the fact that China is already in the disputed waters and instead do its part to keep the region safe and stable.
“Because when you claim an ocean, the whole of it, then that is a new a development in today’s world. So any sense, it would also change — radical changes in the laws of governing international waters, particularly the right of free passage or the right of innocent passage,” he said.
“And all of these things, China is there. That’s a reality and America and everybody should realize that they are there,” he added.
“So if you just keep on creating friction, little friction, one day a bad miscalculation could turn things — Murphy’s Law. If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong,” he continued.
The Philippines vowed to take an active role in the COC negotiations when it assumed the role of coordinator of the ASEAN-China dialogue partnership until 2021.