Speaking to Bloomberg on Tuesday, Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo claimed that the country’s citizens were concerned over President Rodrigo Duterte “selling out” to Beijing in the dispute pertaining to South China Sea.
“I understand why our new administration is more friendly to China, but I think there should be a clear line as far as protecting our territory and sovereignty. The president has made a lot of statements which gives a sense we are acquiescing to what China wants,” Robredo pointed out.
She added that ordinary people are especially alarmed about the possible scenario, when “we might wake up one day and many of our territories are no longer ours”.
Robredo spoke a few weeks after Duterte warned against attempts to drive Chinese vessels out of the disputed zone in the South China Sea, claiming that if Philippine marines are sent to the area to try to implement the mission, “not one of them will come home alive”.
"When [Chinese President] Xi says ‘I will fish’, who can prevent him?” Duterte asked, stressing that while “national honour and territorial integrity are at the foremost” on his mind, “we have to temper it with the times and realities we face today”.
Duterte Says South China Sea 'Now in Beijing's Hands'
Earlier last month, Duterte signalled his readiness to invoke Manila’s Mutual Defence Treaty with Washington, and urged the US to fulfil its obligations and “gather all their Seventh Fleet in front of China”, promising to “join them” if they did so. At the same time, Duterte accused the US of “pushing” and “egging” the Philippines on to take “the bait” in ratcheting up tensions, and warned that “we can never win a war with China”.
In April, Duterte warned Washington against bickering with Beijing over the South China Sea, which he argued is “now in Beijing’s hands”.
“That's a reality, and America and everybody should realise that China is there," Duterte told journalists on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Singapore.
He also suggested that the South China Sea-related conflicts could best be settled by means of direct talks between China and the ASEAN countries. Such negotiations should be held without the US and its allies, which fuel tensions by conducting “freedom of navigation exercises”, according to Duterte.
Apart from China, which has the greatest presence in the area, at least five states currently claim sovereignty over the islands and islets in the South China Sea, including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
Despite having no claims to the territories, the US is also actively engaged in the dispute, sending its military vessels to the South China Sea, sparking harsh criticism from Beijing which calls such acts “provocations”.