The Philippines leader has cancelled his visit and flag raising ceremony at Spratly Islands in the South China Sea whose sovereignty is disputed with China; backtracking on his recently issued order for the military to occupy and fortify the disputed land.
In July 2016, The Hague Tribunal awarded the Philippines sovereignty rights over the Spratly Islands, rejecting China’s claim that it has historic rights to the archipelago. However, having won the legal battle the Philippines, after Rodrigo Duterte assumed office, worked to mend relations with China over the South China Sea territorial dispute.
As Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and other nations continue to claim parts of the South China Sea as their own, President Duterte last week ordered his navy to go and colonize the disputed islands.
“It looks like everyone is making a grab for the islands there. So we better live on those that are still unoccupied. What's ours now, we claim it and make a strong point from there,” Duterte told journalists last week.
“There are about nine or 10 islands there, we have to fortify,” President Duterte added. “I must build bunkers there or houses and provisions for habitation.”
However, feeling that such colonization orders will sever relations with Beijing, Duterte decided to cancel his planned visit to the disputed shoal on Wednesday where he personally planned to raise the national flag on one of the islands.
“Because of our friendship with China and because we value your friendship I will not go there to raise the Philippine flag,” he said during an official visit to Saudi Arabia.
“They said, do not go there in the meantime, just do not go there please. I will correct myself because we value our friendship with China.”