Duterte retreats from tough China stance 

President Rodrigo R. Duterte meets with Miss Universe 2016 Pia Wurtzbach during a courtesy call at the Music Room of the Malacañan Palace on Monday July 18, 2016. KING RODRIGUEZ/PPD

The Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte has watered down his order to the military to reinforce areas in the South China Sea controlled by the Philippines, saying the aim was to maintain the geopolitical balance, and told Beijing that no “offensive weapons” would be installed.

He said he wanted peace and friendship with China but his country needed to deepen its grip on the territory it held in the Spratly islands because “everybody’s grabbing” land in the disputed region.

On Thursday Duterte said he had ordered troops to occupy uninhabited islets and shoals that Manila claims in the Spratly Islands.

The government subsequently said it was intended to upgrade existing defences and not occupy new islands.

“I’d like to address myself to the Chinese government… I ordered the occupation of the 10 or nine islands that are just near our shores because there’s a heightening of geopolitical issues and eventually maybe a violent low-intensity war over here,” he told the media.

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

He said the Philippines would not engage in any military buildup, although US forces would.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have overlapping claims with Beijing to the South China Sea.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a press conference that Beijing enjoyed “close and effective communication” with Manila.

“We hope the Philippines can move forward with China and continue to appropriately handle disputes and create a good atmosphere,” Hua said.

Duterte has reversed Manila’s foreign policy by making friends with China and verbally attacking traditional American allies. He has even blamed Washington for not intervening to stop China’s occupation of what is internationally regarded at Philippine territory.

“If they fight each other, we will be hit. Everybody knows, the United States will be stockpiling their weapons there. And they said they will not,” the bombastic president said.

“I do not want to get involved in a war between nations. I have extended my hand and friendship to the US government,” he said, clearly choosing to forget his numerous anti-US tirades.

“For the information of China, we will not place there any offensive weapons, not even one gun,” he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte meets with Miss Universe 2015. Picture credit: Wikipedia