Philippines backs down on 'occupy' order in South China Sea


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday clarified his order to bolster his country’s military presence in the disputed Spratly Islands, claimed by five other nations with stakes in the South China Sea.

The firebrand Filipino leader said he ordered the military to reinforce areas under the Philippines’ control to maintain a geopolitical balance, but that did not mean militarizing the area. He added that no “offensive weapons” would be placed in the contested archipelago.

Last week, Duterte caused uproar after claiming he ordered the military to “occupy all islands, put up structures and the Philippine flag.”

Beijing responded by pledging to “firmly safeguard its territorial sovereignty, its maritime rights and interests” in the South China Sea.

“We hope the Philippines side can continue to properly manage maritime disputes with China and safeguard together the sound and stable situation of China-Philippines relations,” said China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying on Friday.

The order marked an unusual shift in tone from Duterte’s government, which had taken steps to mend ties between Manila and Beijing. The president’s predecessor had strained relations by upholding a tough stance on the Philippines’ territorial in the South China Sea.

Karte Südchinesisches Meer Besitzanspruch China Englisch

Claims, disputes and tensions

Claims on the Spratly Islands along with other islands, shoals and reefs in the South China Sea have raised regional tensions in recent years.

Last year, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines in a territorial complaint filed by Manila, saying China had no historic rights to resources within its so-called “nine-dash line,” and most notably not in the Spratly archipelago.

Beijing dismissed the ruling, saying it “does not accept any claims and actions based on the arbitration award.” Although the ruling is binding since both countries are signatories to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the court has no power to enforce it.

However, after Duterte assumed office last year, Beijing and Manila agreed to resume bilateral talks and put aside the question of maritime disputes aside.

Besides China and Philippines, four other countries claim territorial stakes in the South China Sea, including Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei.

ls/rt (AP, Reuters, dpa)