Manila, May 29 (IANS) The Philippines has warned China that it will go to war if Beijing crosses a red line by unilaterally mining the natural resources of the South China Sea, the country’s Foreign Minister said.
In a speech on Monday, Foreign Minister Alan Peter Cayetano defended the Philippines government from allegations that they were taking a soft policy on Chinese militarization of the South China Sea.
“President (Rodrigo Duterte) has already said that. If anyone gets the natural resources in the Western Philippines Sea, South China Sea, he will go to war,” Cayetano said.
Tensions in the hotly disputed region have risen amid reports of the Chinese military landing bombers on their artificial islands for the first time.
Under Duterte, who took office in 2016, the Philippines toned down its rhetoric towards China on the dispute. Cayetano said his department was repeatedly told to “file a protest” over Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea, CNN reported.
“We are taking all diplomatic actions at the right time,” he said, adding that “China had been told of the red lines”.
But he said it was unfair to single out China for its advanced militarization in the South China Sea. “If there is more than one country militarizing, and it’s not only the islands, if huge navies are sailing through the area, is that not militarization?” he said. “So we don’t even have a definition of militarization.”
Cayetano’s speech came as the US Navy sailed two warships within 12 nautical miles of China’s artificial islands in the Paracels, as part of their freedom of navigation exercises in the contested waters.
Manila is pursuing a joint exploration agreement with Beijing for oil and natural gas reserves in their claimed territory in the South China Sea.
Beijing claims a huge swathe of territory across the South China Sea, known as the “nine-dash line”, from its southern Hainan province all the way down to the waters north of Malaysia.
To reinforce its claims to the territory, the Chinese government has built a series of artificial islands in the Paracel and Spratly Island chains, with radar facilities and airstrips.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has repeatedly stated that the territory in the South China Sea falls under its jurisdiction. But its position overlaps competing territorial claims from the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and others.
An international tribunal ruled in 2016, in a case brought by the Philippines, that most of Beijing’s stated claims in the South China Sea were illegal under international maritime law.