Duterte says he might sell disputed islands to China

(L-R) Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana and Chinese Foreign Minstry spokeswoman Hua Chunying (photos: www.foxcarolina.com / www.alchetron.com)

By Daniel Llanto | FilAm Star Correspondent

Speaking to media before embarking on a Middle East state visit, President Rodrigo Duterte said he may consider selling the disputed islands in the South China Sea to Beijing to avoid any war since China seems to have appropriated these territories for itself anyway.

Noting the “heightening of geo-political issues” over the South China Sea, the President said that if the Philippines gets “very rich,” he may even consider selling its islands in the South China Sea to Beijing. “When we get rich very rich, I can sell the land to you… Inyo na, when the spectacle of a war is gone,” the President said, adding: “I do not want to get involved in any war.”

Duterte made this remark at the same time when he sounded like he apologized to China for having earlier ordered the military to occupy islands in the South China Sea, putting up structures symbolic of ownership.

The President told China that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will not place any weapons in Philippine islands in the South China Sea. “We are just there to claim the island because that is really ours and I have ordered the AFP to build structures there to signify that atin ito.”

“For the information of China we will not place there any offensive weapons, not even one gun,” he said, pointing out that he meant no harm with the order.

It was not a spur-of-the-moment order, a check with the military showed. An AFP general, who declined to be named, said the development plans in the South China Sea have been there since 2012 during former President Benigno Aquino III’s administration. The plans included building a secured port on Pag-asa Island and helicopter pads in three smaller islands where troops are deployed.

But the plan, which also called for an increase in troop deployment in the occupied islands, was stopped after the Philippines in 2013 filed an arbitration case against China in The Hague.

The Philippines occupies nine “features”, or islands and reefs, in the South China Sea, including a World War II-vintage transport ship which ran aground on Second Thomas Shoal in the late 1990s.

Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana now says the plans are to only repair and upgrade facilities in the Spratlys.

“The President wants facilities built such as barracks for the men, water and sewage disposal systems, power generators, light houses, and shelters for fishermen,” Lorenzana said.

Duterte last week said he has ordered the AFP to occupy all islands the country has staked claims in the South China Sea. “We have to maintain our jurisdiction over South China Sea,” Duterte told reporters.

A Malacanang statement last week said Duterte had ordered troops to occupy uninhabited islands and shoals that the Philippines claims in the disputed waterway, asserting sovereignty in an apparent change of tack likely to anger China.

The President supposedly planned to personally raise the flag when the structures are completed and joked about replacing the dilapidated BRP Sierra Madre ship grounded at Spratly with a cruise ship.

That in fact drew an expression of concern from China which urged Manila to “properly manage” the maritime dispute. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said that Beijing hopes Manila would work to maintain bilateral ties between the two countries.

“Having noted the report (on Duterte’s order to AFP), the Chinese side is concerned about it. We hope the Philippine side will continue to properly manage maritime disputes with China and work with us to maintain the sound and steady growth of China-Philippines relations,” Hua said.

In response, Duterte also urged Beijing to understand Manila’s position, since “everybody’s grabbing every land.”

“I have extended my hand in friendship to the Chinese government. Kindly, kindly take a deep look at the situation… We meant no harm to China, we are friends as a matter of fact,” he said.