Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has signalled his readiness to invoke Manila’s Mutual Defence Treaty (MDT) with Washington amid tensions over the South China Sea.
“I’m calling now America. I’m invoking the RP-US pact. I would like America to gather all their Seventh Fleet in front of China. I’m asking them now. And I will join them", Duterte said in televised remarks.
He was referring to the bilateral peace deal signed back in 1951 that stipulates both countries supporting each other in case of an attack by an external party.
Duterte also pledged to drag the critics of his position on the South China Sea dispute to go to war with him, citing Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, and former Foreign Affairs chief Albert del Rosario.
“I will ride on the boat where admiral of the US [is based] . But I will drag along this Carpio and the rest of Albert. When the Americans say, ‘we’re here now’, ready, I will press the (button)”, Duterte claimed.
The remarks come about a week after the Philippine president urged the US to remain committed to the MDT and vowed that Manila would support Washington in its possible conflict with Beijing over the matter.
“Now I say, you bring your planes, your boats to the South China Sea. Fire the first shot and we are just here behind you. Go ahead, let’s fight. We have an RP-US pact, so let us honour it. Do you want trouble? OK, let’s do it”, Duterte said, warning at the same time that “we can never win a war with China”.
Earlier, Duterte urged China to actively participate in the development of a code of conduct for operations in the disputed waters of the South China Sea warning that "the longer it takes" the greater the chances that the region will become a "flashpoint of troubles".
He also confirmed his previous statements that Manila is powerless to affect China's behaviour at sea, but added that he is "sad and bewildered" by Beijing's actions. He also questioned the legitimacy of the Asian country's claims to the territory, disputed by a spate of other states.
Apart from Beijing, the Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands, which are among the more frequently disputed territories in the South China Sea, are also claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Beijing has established de facto control over the Paracels since 1974.
The US, in turn, regularly sends its military vessels to the area to carry out so-called “freedom of navigation” missions, in what Beijing slams as provocative moves, urging Washington to stop the practice.