23 Mayo 2017 13:57
In his own country he's the tough guy. He's the one who insults, threatens, and incites violence. Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has emerged as one of the biggest thugs in international politics, particularly infamous for his bloodthirsty methods of dealing with suspected criminals and drug dealers. But when 'The Punisher' comes up against China... the bully suddenly becomes the bullied. Size matters.
Back in Manila, after taking part in the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, Duterte has shared some details about his conversations with Chinese president Xi Jinping. His remarks were in answer to domestic critics who have attacked him for being too soft on Beijing in the two countries' dispute on drilling for oil in the South China Sea. Duterte did raise the subject, he told critics. And Xi, very politely, responded with a threat of war.
'We intend to drill oil there, if it's yours, well, that's your view, but my view is, I can drill the oil if there is some inside the bowels of the earth because it is ours,' Duterte said in a speech, recalling his conversation with Xi.
'His response to me,' recalled Duterte, was '"we're friends, we don't want to quarrel with you, we want to maintain the presence of warm relationship, but if you force the issue, we'll go to war."'
The 'issue' Xi refers to is the possibility of the Philippines invoking a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague which says that China has no legal basis for claiming historic sovereignty and a right to the exploitation of the natural resources of almost 90% of the South China Sea.
According to the ruling, the Philippines should be entitled to the exploitation of oil and gas that may be included within its 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone, the maritime strip that extends from the outer limit of its territorial sea to a distance of 200 miles.
The conversation with Xi was, Duterte has insisted, 'friendly'. The Chinese president president did not speak aggressively, and after the firm, but friendly warning the two leaders carried on talking about other matters.
We're friends, we don't want to quarrel with you, we want to maintain the presence of warm relationship, but if you force the issue, we'll go to war
Duterte also said that Xi did not want to bring up the arbitral ruling at a time when other claimant countries like Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei might be tempted to file cases against China at the arbitration tribunal.
Duterte added that Xi had promised that the ruling would be discussed in the future, once relations between the two countries had been strengthened.
For now however, he is taking Xi's threat about the South China Sea very seriously: 'Don't touch it.'