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What’s Behind Duterte's ‘Provocative’ Statement on South China Sea

© AFP 2023 / BAY ISMOYOPhilippine President Rodrigo Duterte (C) waves next to Indonesian President Joko Widodo (lower R) during a visit to Tanah Abang market in Jakarta
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (C) waves next to Indonesian President Joko Widodo (lower R) during a visit to Tanah Abang market in Jakarta - Sputnik International
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered military personnel to occupy Manila-claimed islands and reefs in the disputed South China Sea. His plan to build structures and raise the Philippine flag on some of the disputed islands is unlikely to sit well with China, which lays claim to almost all of the South China Sea.

Radio Sputnik discussed the issue with Dr. John Rennie Short, a political analyst and author, and professor of public policy at the University of Maryland.

“This is very strange because Duterte had spent the last few months encouraging closer ties with China. So ramping up the military in the Philippines controlled islands in the Spartly will deepen annoyance of the Chinese,” Short said.

Talking about what kind of response Beijing had to these statements, the analyst said that so far there is no official statement but it is possible that right now Beijing is “assessing its options.”

“They (the Chinese) had considered a close and deepening relationship with Duterte and the Philippines and his recognition of their claims in the South China Sea. So this would seem as a provocative move,” the analyst said.

Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, photographed by a USN surveillance aircraft in 2015 - Sputnik International
US Senators Propose Bill Penalizing Aggression by China in South China Sea
He further spoke about how the Philippines has claims on some of the islands and how its militarizing the rest of the islands can lead to a destabilization of the already tense situation in the South China Sea.

Duterte in the past had raised some provocative topics and then later said that he was “joking.” So could it be that this time around he is demonstrating a similar tendency?

“He is sort of unpredictable in both his statements and his actions. He has made a number of inflammatory statements previously about President Obama, about the US and so he is the worst of allies for the Chinese due to his unpredictability. At first you think he is your friend but now it seems to be that he is engaging in provocative behavior,” Short said.

A Filipino soldier patrols at the shore of Pagasa island (Thitu Island) in the Spratly group of islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan, Philippines, May 11, 2015 - Sputnik International
Duterte Orders Philippine Troops, Military Construction on S China Sea Islands
On the other hand, the analyst said that Duterte could also be making such statements for the domestic audience because his popularity is slightly fading.

“This could be a plan to take attention away from domestic issues towards international, so it could be for domestic consumption other than a real geopolitical move,” the analyst said.

He added that no military personnel have been used yet, so it is possible that it is just rhetoric.

Earlier, Duterte said that the Philippines need to maintain jurisdiction over the South China Sea.

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