Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte has cancelled a planned visit to an island the Philippines claims in the disputed South China Sea, after Beijing warned him against the visit.
The brash Philippine leader last week announced his plan to raise the Philippine flag in the island of Thitu and fortify it with barracks, setting off alarm bells.
“Because of our friendship with China and because we value your friendship I will not go there to raise the Philippine flag,” Duterte said in a speech before the Filipino community in Riyadh late Wednesday.
“They said, do not go there in the meantime, just do not go there please. I will correct myself because we value our friendship with China,” he said, adding that he might just send his son to the island.
China claims most of the South China Sea through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes annually. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.
Duterte said Beijing warned him that “there will likely be trouble” if every head of state of contending parties will go to the disputed islands and plant flags.
The popular president is on a week-long state visit in the Middle East to facilitate trade and investments, and meet with Filipinos overseas. The Middle East is the second largest source of remittances, with more than one million Filipino workers sending home $7.6 billion in last year, government data showed.
Duterte, who led the warming of ties with China, had blamed the United States for the current maritime tensions for not intervening to stop China building and arming artificial islands in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
The Philippines will reinforce, but not military, areas in the South China Sea controlled by Manila to maintain the geopolitical balance, Duterte said on Monday.