The Philippines will not back down from its claim in the South China Sea, but is open to negotiations with China, the country’s incoming president said yesterday.
“They are there illegally, whether they want to believe it or not,” Rodrigo Duterte told reporters before meeting Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua.
The conflict centres on the Spratly Islands, a far-flung set of islands 100-300 kilometres off the Philippine coast, which Beijing also claims along with most of the South China Sea.
Duterte, who said during his campaign the Philippines could afford to be softer on China, said this did not mean he would drop the claims in exchange for economic and trade concessions from Beijing.
“I said soft in the sense that I do not want to go to war,” he said. “But if you mean soft to renege or to relent, that is impossible, very impossible.”
The Chinese ambassador said he had “a very good conversation.”
“The Chinese side is looking forward to working with him and his team,” Zhao told reporters after the meeting.
Zhao was the second ambassador to pay a courtesy call on the 71-year-old mayor of the southern town of Davao after his victory in the May 9 presidential elections.
Duterte yesterday first received the ambassador of Japan, and later the Israeli envoy, as well as local and national politicians, businessmen and former military and police officials.
They were received in an unfinished condominium complex in Davao City, near the mayor’s house, which Duterte has turned into a temporary office while waiting for his official proclamation.
When asked when he would meet with US ambassador Philip Goldberg, Duterte said no schedule has been made.
The mayor, who has not hidden his wariness of the Philippines’ long-standing relationship with the US, said he would honour the defence alliance with Washington.
But he would not rely on it to resolve the dispute in the South China Sea, hinting that the does not believe the US would back up the Philippines in a confrontation.
“I’m asking point blank, America, are you with us or are you not with us?” he said. “If there is war and I will attack, will you be at my back to support me? Or will you say, you went to war on your own, or the conditions are not ready for war, why are you going to war?”
The US and the Philippines have held joint maritime patrols in the contested South China Sea, and Washington has also vowed to deploy aircraft and soldiers more regularly to its South-East Asian ally amid the tensions over the dispute.
China claims nearly the entirety of the South China Sea, a key shipping lane believed to be rich in mineral and marine resources.
Manila filed arbitration questioning China’s claim before a UN tribunal, but Beijing has refused to participate in the proceedings. The US has sent warships close to disputed islands in the sea in what Washington has called “freedom of navigation” missions.
Earlier, Duterte vowed to introduce executions by hanging as part of a ruthless law-and-order crackdown that would also include ordering military snipers to kill suspected criminals.
In back-to-back press conferences since his landslide victory in May 9 elections, the tough-talking mayor of southern Davao city said security forces would be given “shoot-to-kill” orders and that citizens would learn to fear the law.
“Those who destroy the lives of our children will be destroyed,” Duterte said in wide-ranging comments to reporters in Davao yesterday afternoon as he outlined on his war on crime once he is sworn into office on June 30.
“Those who kill my country will be killed. Simple as that. No middle ground. No apologies. No excuses.”
Duterte also vowed to roll out Davao law-and-order measures on a nationwide basis, including a 2:00 am curfew on drinking in public places and a ban on children walking on the streets alone late at night. Smoking in restaurants and hotels will also be banned.
Duterte said a central part of his war on crime would be to bring back the death penalty, which was abolished in 2006 under then-president Gloria Arroyo.
Duterte said he would ask Congress to reintroduce capital punishment for a wide range of crimes, including drug trafficking, rape, murder, robbery and kidnapping-for-ransom.
He said he preferred death by hanging to a firing squad because he did not want to waste bullets, and because he believed snapping the spine with a noose was more humane.
For people convicted of two major crimes, Duterte said he wanted them hanged twice.
“After you are hanged first, there will be another ceremony for the second time until the head is completely severed from the body. I like that because I am mad,” he said.
The centrepiece of Duterte’s stunningly successful election campaign was a pledge to end crime within three to six months of being elected.
Duterte vowed during the campaign to kill tens of thousands criminals, outraging his critics but hypnotising tens of millions of Filipinos fed up with rampant crime and graft.
He said on one occasion that 100,000 people would die, and so many bodies would be dumped in Manila Bay that the fish would grow fat from feeding on them.
In an initial press conference late Sunday, Duterte said his “shoot-to-kill” orders would be given for those involved in organised criminals or who resisted arrest.
“If you resist, show violent resistance, my order to police (will be) to shoot to kill. Shoot to kill for organised crime,” he said. Duterte said the military as well as the police would be used in his war on crime.
“I need military officers who are sharp-shooters and snipers. It’s true. If you (criminals) fight, I will have a sniper shoot you,” he said.
On his ban on children walking alone late at night, Duterte warned the parents of repeat offenders would be arrested and thrown into jail for “abandonment”.
Duterte has been accused of running vigilante death squads during his more than two decades as mayor of Davao, a city of about 2mn people that he says he has turned into one of the nations safest.
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