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Duterte unafraid, drills held in S China Sea
Published on: Wednesday, May 12, 2021
By: PNA, AFP, Tempo Indonesia
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Duterte reviews the honour guard during the 120th Philippine navy anniversary celebration in 2018. (EPA-EFE)
MANILA: President Rodrigo Duterte rejected speculations that he backed out of a debate with retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio because he is afraid of the former magistrate.

Duterte said he opted out of the debate over concerns that his statements “might bind future actions of government” in relation to the West Philippine Sea (WPS) in the South China Sea.

Japan, the US and France begun their first-ever joint military drills in the region on Tuesday, with Indonesia holding their own sea exercises with China just days earlier.

“The problem here is I forgot that Carpio is not the President, it’s me. So the policy statement, my replies to his questions he would ask me and I might bind future actions of government when it comes to the West Philippine Sea,” the Philippine President said in a pre-recorded meeting with some Cabinet officials.

Last week, Duterte challenged Carpio to a formal debate on issues concerning territorial issues on the WPS to which the latter accepted.

He later assigned Presidential Spokesperson Roque to debate with Carpio on his behalf upon his Cabinet members’ advice.

Duterte said he saw nothing wrong with admitting that his administration owes China a “debt of gratitude” for donating Covid-19 vaccines.

He pointed out that accepting the Covid-19 vaccine donations does not mean that he would give up the country’s territorial claims.

Despite improved ties between the Philippines and China, he said there will be “no compromise” on issues concerning sovereign rights.

“I would still use the vaccines, but I’m going to say that this is not payment. This is different. This is Philippine national interest. This is not a health issue that I thank you for,” he added.

China has donated two vaccine brands to the Philippines namely “CoronaVac” from China’s Sinovac Biotech and Sinopharm from a state-owned company of the same name.

Duterte said his 2016 promise to ride a jet ski to the Spratly Islands and plant a Philippine flag there is just part of a “joke” and part of his “bravado.”

Duterte said he was not taking the country’s sovereignty lightly, but merely throwing in jokes when it was his turn to speak during the televised debates.

Should he have made true his promise to ride a jet ski to the Spratly Islands, he said he would have died since he did not know how to swim.

Duterte’s comments come as Japanese, US and French troops kicked off their first-ever joint military exercise Tuesday in southwestern Japan, as concerns rise over China’s growing assertiveness in the region.

An Australian naval ship is also taking part in the week-long air, land and sea exercises involving 300 ground troops from the three countries.

Tokyo is looking to deepen defence ties beyond its key US ally and with eyes on Beijing’s moves in the East and South China seas.

“The drill is no doubt a deterrent to China’s increasingly aggressive behaviour in the region,” Takashi Kawakami, head of the Institute of World Studies at Takushoku University, told AFP.

The drills, which include fighter jet and amphibious operation exercises, will be held in the Kyushu region and at sea with virus countermeasures.

A Japanese submarine and 10 surface ships—six Japanese, two French, one American and one Australian—will be used, a French naval official told AFP.

Japan has long said it feels threatened by China’s vast military resources and territorial disputes.

It is particularly concerned by Chinese activity around the Japanese-administered Senkaku islands, which Beijing claims and calls the Diaoyus.

France has strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific including territories like Reunion in the Indian Ocean and French Polynesia in the South Pacific.

The nation unveiled its own Indo-Pacific strategy in 2018, describing Japan, Australia, India and the US as key strategic partners in the region.

Japan has rarely held joint military drills with European counterparts, but both a British aircraft carrier and German frigate are expected to be sent to the Indo-Pacific region later this year.

Earlier this week, the Indonesian and Chinese navies conducted a joint exercise in the waters near Jakarta to improve coordination during emergencies at sea, the China Global Television Network (CGTN) reported.

In a 47-second video, CGTN reported on the deployment of two Chinese guided-missile frigate ships — Liuzhou and Suqian — for the joint exercise with the Indonesian Navy.

The Indonesian Navy deployed two warships for the exercise — KRI Usman Harun and KRI Halasan, which are also guided-missile frigate ships.

The joint exercise focused on communication, search and rescue operations, as well as manoeuvre formation, according to the report.

Earlier, the Chinese Navy had deployed its fleet to help lift the debris of the sunken Indonesian submarine KRI Nanggala-402 in the waters north of Bali island.

The Chinese Navy sent three ships, including the 13,000 tonnage Hull-163, to help salvage KRI Nanggala-402.

The three Chinese ships were different from those that participated in the joint exercise. 



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