MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has urged China to “temper” its behaviour in the South China Sea in a rare criticism of the Asian superpower over its programme of island-building in disputed waters.
China has alarmed and angered its neighbours by claiming dominion over most of the South China Sea and building a string of artificial islands and military air bases.
But the outspoken Duterte – keen to court trade and investment from Beijing – has mostly withheld criticism.
In a change of tone, Duterte said in a speech late on Tuesday to business entrepreneurs that China had no right to claim airspace above man-made islands.
Philippine officials have claimed military pilots are repeatedly warned off by Beijing as their planes approach Philippine-held Thitu island, which lies beside a Chinese air base built on top of Subi Reef.
“You cannot create an island. It’s man-made and you say that the air above this artificial island is yours,” Duterte said, according to a transcript released by the presidential palace yesterday.
“That is wrong because those waters are what (one) would consider international sea. And the right of innocent passage is guaranteed,” said Duterte, who did not refer to any specific incident.
He added that he did not want to “quarrel” with China.
The comments follow allegations in May of Chinese harassment of Filipino troops at another South China Sea garrison.
Duterte’s national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon told reporters at the time that the Philippines could go to war “if our people are hurt there”. — AFP