PHILIPPINES President-elect Rodrigo Duterte says he has asked U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg if Washington will back the Philippines if a confrontation with China were to take place over the disputed South China Sea.
At a business forum in Davao City, Duterte told an audience of several hundred people, mostly businessmen, that he asked Goldberg: “Are you with us or are you not with us?”
According to Rappler, he said: “Because if I may decide based on the [international court’s] judgement, I will now start to claim there.”
Goldberg reportedly responded the U.S. would only support the Philippines if it was “attacked”.
Duterte said: “The [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] gives us the exclusive right over 200 [nautical miles]. If I go there using that privilege of mine, would that be an attack against China or an offense against China?”
The Philippines is currently awaiting an international tribunal with The Hague, which it lodged in order to seek a definitive ruling under the Law of the Sea on China’s maritime entitlements.
China reacted angrily to the tribunal, accusing the Philippines of “political provocation”. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the decision was “irresponsible to the Filipino people and the future of the Philippines”.
China has also vowed to reject The Hague’s ruling, and has called on Manila to settle the dispute by engaging in direct negotiations several times.
According to state-owned media, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying rejected “Western media” reports that only eight countries support China’s claim on the South China Sea.
Hua said that more countries, including Zambia, Cameroon, Ethiopia, and Malawi are backing the country, and reiterated that China would not accept or participate in the arbitration ruling.
The China News Service reported that Hua said: “No one should demand China accept any result from an illegal and unfair arbitration. China’s stance helps safeguard the dignity and authority of international law.”
Duterte’s challenge to the U.S. is in line with the Mutual Defense Treaty, drawn up between the U.S. and the Philippines in 1951, which states that both countries will “act to meet the common dangers” if one is attacked.
While the U.S. has thus far taken no formal stance on the South China Sea feud, the navy has sent two aircraft carriers to the Philippine Sea over the weekend – a rare occurrence that is being interpreted as a show of strength to deter China.
The Financial Review reports that U.S. Navy chief Admiral John Richardson said at a security conference on Monday: “For anyone who wants to destabilize that region, we hope that there is a deterrence message there.”
In a teleconference with Australian and New Zealand journalists on June 8, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Colin Willett, stressed the importance of the Law of the Sea.
She said: “I think what’s important at the moment is for the international community to be sending a concerted signal that the Convention on the Law of the Sea is an important part of the international system, that is going to be upheld by the international community, and that we will see it as a very significant problem if that isn’t the case in the South China Sea.”
Additional reporting by Associated Press