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Are You Goin' to Scarborough Shoal?
Duterte: We Can’t Stop China at Scarborough Shoal

The news that China may be preparing to build on Scarborough Shoal may have alarmed defense planners in Manila and Washington, but Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte greeted the news with a fatalistic shrug. Yahoo News:

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Sunday he could not stop China from building on a disputed shoal near his country’s west coast because it was too powerful. […]

“We cannot stop China from doing (these) things,” Duterte told journalists when asked about the reports.

“What do you want me to do? Declare war against China? I can’t. We will lose all our military and policemen tomorrow and we (will be) a destroyed nation,” he told a press conference before departing for a visit to Myanmar.

Duterte said he would tell the Chinese: “Just keep it (the waters) open and do not interfere with our coast guard.”

At the same press conference, Duterte also dismissed fears about Chinese incursions near Benham Rise, an underwater structure east of the Philippine island of Luzon. Last week, the Philippine defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana warned of Chinese activity there and promised to increase naval patrols to assert Manila’s sovereignty—but Duterte, by contrast, has dismissed such concerns as “nit-picking.”

It is important to note that this is not the first time that Duterte and Lorenzana have publicly contradicted each other; Duterte has consistently taken a more sanguine view of China than his defense secretary. Despite the public disagreement, though, the more hawkish line of the Philippines’ top brass has prevailed more often than not. Duterte’s most dramatic threats—to scrap military agreements with the United States and kick out American soldiers, for instance—have not come to pass, and leaders at the Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry have consistently lodged formal protests with Beijing over its militarization of the South China Sea.

Some of this is clearly due to internal dynamics, but it also reflects the general sense of uncertainty that the election of Donald Trump has cast across most of the world. Much in Asia will depend on where the United States and China end up after Xi visits Mar e Lago next month; the region’s players will want to wait to commit to anything until the Trump Administration has more fully played its hand.

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  • Dhako

    As I have told many times before in this parish (not that it has done much for you so far), the fact of the matter is that Philippines in general and President Duterte in general, has already made their strategical “pivot” or “tilt” away from US and towards the Chinese side. And that means, all these huffing and puffing some in America are doing about the Scarborough Shoal (and in particularly by the chaps who write for this parish) is essentially something the US could well may do it. But it will not change the strategical direction of the travel for the Philippines state. Moreover, there is a “larger understanding” between the President Duterte and President Xi, in regards to how to go forward in South China Sea (SCS), as well as how to deal with their respective claims of various areas within the South China Sea (SCS).

    Furthermore, due to that “larger strategical understanding” in regards to this particular issue, there is a several sub-set of agreed agenda. And one of those sub-set agreed agenda is the fact that both states agreed that the “ruling” from the “Hague tribunal” in regards to the South China Sea (SCS), are effectively null-and-void. And both states, will henceforth proceed as if nothing of a legal kind stand in the way of both parties to reach a final dispensation of this South China Sea (SCS) issue.

    And that means regardless of what it’s said to the press in-terms of press-conference by President Duterte, the fact of the matter is that this issue is not going to be a “wedge issue” in which the US could use it to antagonize the Philippines away from China. And this is the bottom line, in which folks in this parish, who keep on harping on about this issue between the Philippines and China, are having a hard time in internalizing it. But in time, I am sure they will come around to this glaring reality in the Asia-Pacific region.

    • Jon Robbins

      To what extent is Duterte’s “pivot” a rational calculation and to what extent is it the product of a somewhat unstable personality and his past experiences with the US and Americans?

  • Proverbs1618

    So Duerte is pretty much conceding the sovereignty of waters surrounding his country. For an island nation, this seems…. shortsighted.

  • Jon Robbins

    Interesting that no one in our lame media is willing to go do a comprehensive interview with Duterte and help the US public understand his thought process. Instead, what we get is a ton of speculation piled on highly selective and partial quotations and silly pseduo-analysis about the uncertainly brought on by Trump. This dynamic was well under way pre-Trump.

    The future direction of the PI is a major issue for the US, but you’d never know it from the way our “journalists” approach it.

  • Suzy Dixon

    Duterte is correct, and that’s because no one stopped their force of taking the shoal in the first place. America should just swop PH for Vietnam. They actually stand up for themselves.

  • Duterte is too busy sanctioning the murder of his own people to have time to stand up to China.

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