Duterte warns China of ocean grabbing free-for-all amid South China Sea dispute

Ahead of this weekend’s Asean summit, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warned China that it should be wary over claiming contested waters for fear it would inspire others, including the US.

Speaking to media in Manilla on Friday, Duterte said he planned to talk “lengthily” about the issue of disputed waters in the South China Sea during the summit which will see southeast Asian economies descend on the Thai capital of Bangkok. However, before leaving, he said China should be careful about claiming entire bodies of water.

“My question to China, we’re friends, but… is it correct for China to declare ownership of an ocean?” Duterte asked. He said that if this was the case, Manilla would happily do the same to other nearby seas and there was nothing to stop others from doing so.

“That is the danger,” Duterte added, noting that the US could claim half the Pacific Ocean and other nations could equally claim various waters for their own.

Meanwhile, China has criticized the US for acting “provocatively” in the South China Sea, while Beijing is forced to defend its claims more assertively.

The South China Sea is a strategically important shipping lane in the Pacific Ocean through which an estimated $3.37 trillion worth of trade passes each year. China asserts control over most of the sea, however, neighboring countries like the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore all contest various overlapping claims.

This has led to tensions steadily rising in recent months. In June, a Chinese vessel reportedly rammed a Filipino fishing boat leaving 22 crew members to be rescued by other Filipino fishermen. A Philippines military official likened the incident to a “hit and run.”

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