MANILA – The Philippine government under the famous mess Rodrigo Duterte has at times carried out his diplomacy with the most undiplomatic language.
Unlike China, Mr. Duterte, on the other hand, generally chose honey over vinegar, afraid of the consequences of pushing out. But on Monday, that did not stop his top diplomat from doing just that.
China, my friend, how politely can I say that? Let me see…, ”wrote Teodoro Locsin Jr., Mr. Duterte’s Secretary of State, in a tirade on his personal Twitter account. He then directly and vulgarly demanded that Beijing pull its ships out of Manila̵
“What are you doing with our friendship?” He continued. “You. Not us. We try. You. You’re like an ugly oaf who forces your attention on a handsome guy who wants to be a friend.”
The comments from Mr. Locsin, an enticing and sometimes controversial Twitter presence, served as a punctuation mark for a strong but more soberly worded claim issued Monday by the Philippine State Department.
It called on China to remove its ships from waters around the Kalayaan Island Group and the Scarborough Shoal, saying Beijing had no “law enforcement rights in the territories”.
“The unauthorized and prolonged presence of these ships is a clear violation of Philippine sovereignty,” it added, stressing that the Philippine maritime patrols and training exercises in the territories were a “legitimate and routine act of a sovereign country in its territory.”
The department also protested “shadow, blockage, dangerous maneuvering and radio challenges” from the Chinese Coast Guard against its Philippine counterpart around the Scarborough Shoal last week.
China has largely ignored Manila’s demand for a withdrawal, holding dozens of ships in Philippine waters, and Manila has responded by filing daily diplomatic protests against Beijing.
The triangular chain of atolls and coral reefs that are the subject of the dispute between the Philippines and China is well within Manila’s economic zone, about 123 miles from Subic Bay on Luzon Island.
But the Chinese government is claiming sovereignty over virtually the entire South China Sea, and it has drawn warnings from the Biden administration not to provoke conflict as it moves aggressively to prosecute these allegations.
In 2016, just as Mr Duterte assumed the presidency, the Philippines took its case against China to an international arbitral tribunal, and it ruled in favor of the Philippines.
During his nearly five years in power, however, he has mostly chosen not to oppose China in hopes of keeping the help of the giant neighbor afloat. This attitude contrasts with how Mr. Duterte has dealt with Barack Obama and the European Union, both of which have been targets of his verbal attacks. Sir. Duterte has acknowledged his unholy ways and said at one point that God had advised him to tone it down.
Last week, Duterte strongly thanked China for delivering Covid-19 vaccines to the country, saying he was deeply indebted. And on Monday, he appeared to be receiving his first dose of the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine, according to a livestream shared on Facebook by a Philippine lawmaker.
Still, the territorial issues are a red line of sorts for the Philippines, even though Mr. Duterte at times has sounded almost apologetic when he explained his case.
He said the Philippine patrols in the area would not cease, but that his country would not “comfort” China, especially with “a war.”
“There are things that are not really subject to a compromise, such as that we withdraw” our patrols, said Mr. Duterte. “It is difficult. I hope they understand, but I also have the interest of my country to protect.”