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Duterte May Be Handing China The South China Sea On A Silver Platter

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter

President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte admitted his country is powerless to defend its territories in the South China Sea.

“Let’s not dwell on the Scarborough Shoal. We don’t have the capabilities. Even if we express anger, it will just amount to nothing,” Duterte said in a speech Tuesday.

Under former President Benigno Aquino III, the U.S. military alliance was strong, and the Philippines was outspoken in its criticisms of Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. The Philippines unilaterally submitted its maritime disputes with China to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2013, much to the consternation of the Chinese.

The Hague ruled against China’s claims to the South China Sea July 12.

When he first took office, Duterte took a firm stance on the country’s territorial disputes. Duterte promised a “bloody” fight if China invaded the Scarborough Shoal. Speaking about The Hague ruling against China, he noted that “there will come a time that we have to do some reckoning about this.”

Lately, Duterte has been pulling away from the U.S., and he has become much more accommodating of China.

He has significantly downplayed the ruling, rendering the country’s only real legal recourse for dealing with regional disputes ineffective.

Furthermore, Duterte has already canceled joint drills in the South China Sea and war games with the U.S. to appease China. He demanded the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Philippines. Duterte is re-evaluating the U.S.-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which allows the U.S. to utilize military bases in the Philippines. Duterte has yet to suspend the U.S.-Philippines military alliance, but there are concerns he may pursue this course of action.

Duterte is steadily removing the American military might which the Philippines once used to stand up to China.

The president of the Philippines will travel to China Oct. 19. Attempting to mend ties, he has softened his stance on the South China Sea disputes. Duterte is optimistic about his upcoming meeting with China. “I have a suspicion they truly want to help,” the president said of China’s intentions. “I have a good feeling that we will be OK with them. But first let’s not touch the Scarborough Shoal issue because we cannot win that.”

Duterte did, however, state that he would “demand” China give Filipinos access to their traditional fishing grounds near the shoal.

China already has control of the Paracels, the Spratlys, and the Scarborough Shoal. These three regions make up the “strategic triangle” in the South China Sea. The latter, which is also known as Panatag or Huangyan, was leveraged away from the Philippines in 2012.

China has militarized both the Paracels and the Spratlys. It has yet to openly carry out reclamation and construction work on the Scarborough Shoal. President Barack Obama made it clear that such activities would constitute the crossing of a red line and would result in serious consequences.

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