Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has said he does not have enough weapons in his arsenal to go to war with China, and so has to maintain friendly relations with Beijing. China possesses missiles that can reach Manila but he does not have enough fireworks to strike Beijing, quipped the Filipino leader.
The firebrand leader was speaking against the backdrop of territorial tensions between Manila and Beijing over the South China Sea dispute. Beijing's claims over most of the energy-rich South China Sea have led to territorial conflicts with several nations including the Philippines. However, Duterte has been attempting to brush aside the long-running territorial dispute in exchange for Chinese funding coming into his country.
"[President] Xi Jinping has been good to me. And we're trying to, not really please him but ah—you know, that China Sea will always be there," Duterte said addressing a local gathering of Philippines officials.
"I said, 'I will drill oil in our territory.' What was the answer in the bilateral there? In not so many words, they said that could mean war. We are not going to war with them," added Duterte and then went on to jokingly say: "Their missiles can reach Manila... I don't have fireworks that can reach that far."
In 2016, an international tribunal at The Hague ruled in favour of the Philippines, rejecting China's unilateral territorial rights in the South China Sea. Though nothing much has changed in the disputed scene over the ruling, it was seen as a major defeat for Beijing.
"I said I don't want to go to war and let us just be friends. Just know that someday we will have to talk about it (the territorial dispute) because that is ours. That is ours. Yes. I said I understand. We are both claiming it as ours. But someday you have to talk to me. I will not do it now because I come here in good faith and I want to be friends with you," Duterte said.
The Philippines' soft-pedalling on China-related issues is likely to be reflected by the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), of which Manila is currently the chair. The South China Sea dispute is unlikely to feature on the agenda in the upcoming summit of top Asean ministers. References to China's recent activities in the region have also been removed from the jointly drafted communiqué, Reuters reported.