Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has warned Beijing against hostile activities aimed at Pag-asa island, where a Philippine military base is located, vowing to order "suicide missions" to retaliate against Chinese actions in a statement on 5 April.
"I will not plead or beg, but I am just telling you that lay off the Pag-asa because I have soldiers there. If you touch it, that's another story. Then I will tell my soldiers ‘prepare for suicide missions'", he said.
His words were preceded by a statement from the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which lambasted the presence of Chinese warships near the island, calling it "illegal" and a violation of the Philippines' sovereignty.
A Chinese "fleet" of fishing boats and coastguard vessels has recently been circling around Philippine island in the South China Sea, sparking criticism from Manila. Beijing, in turn, has downplayed claims of rising tensions between the two states in regard to the situation around Pag-asa and stated that China and the Philippines have "exchanged views frankly, amicably and constructively" on the matter.
In earlier statements, Duterte has urged other countries to come to terms with the fact that Beijing controls the South China Sea and has called for avoiding creating frictions with China over the issue. He has also cautioned all states against going to war over the disputed waters, but said that Manila could be forced to retaliate if its servicemen on Pag-asa are hurt.
Numerous states claim sovereignty over the islands and islets in the South China Sea, including China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam. However, China has the greatest presence in the region. The US, despite having no claims on the territories, is also actively engaged in the dispute, sending its military vessels to the sea, sparking harsh criticism from Beijing, which calls such acts "provocations".