Asia Times, Richard Javad Heydarian
Philippine leader’s quip sets off a firestorm over his soft approach to Beijing’s militarization of the South China Sea.
“If you want, just make us a province, like Fujian,” quipped Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte before an audience of Filipino-Chinese businessmen on February 19.
Significantly, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua was in attendance among influential tradesmen and industrialists who applauded the Filipino leader’s controversial statement.
Duterte was also quick to downplay in his presentation rising concerns over China’s militarization of artificially created islands in the South China Sea, including on nearby features claimed by the Philippines.
“Military bases, I must admit [it’s presence], but is it intended for us? You must be joking. It’s not intended for us,” claimed the Filipino president. “It’s really intended for those who China thinks will destroy them and that is America.”
The speech was Duterte’s latest bid to defend his pro-China foreign policy, a shift away from the Philippines’ traditional reliance on treaty ally the United States which has sent shockwaves at home and across the region as revelations of China’s expansionist designs come to light.
His statements immediately provoked a firestorm in the Philippines, with government critics claiming that the country is at risk of becoming a full-blown Chinese satellite state under Duterte’s accommodative leadership.
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