President Rodrigo Duterte admitted on Friday that he is on a “tightrope” as he could not afford to provoke China, which he considers as a “friend”.
Duterte made the admission, as he emphasized the need to maintain the Philippines’ improved ties with China.
“I am walking on a tightrope actually. I cannot afford to be brave in the mouth against China because we are avoiding any confrontation, a confrontation that would lead to something which we can hardly avoid. At least not at this time,” he said in a speech delivered before his troops in Clark Air Base in Pampanga and to inspect newly-delivered air assets.
Duterte’s statement came following the Philippines’ refusal to join last year’s naval drills in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) with the United States and other allied countries.
In a television interview on Thursday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana defended the Philippines’ decision to skip the naval drills in the South China Sea, saying Filipino troops lacked the assets to “match” China’s activities in the contested waters.
On July 12, 2016, the Philippines won the arbitration case it filed against China after the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruled that Beijing has “no legal basis” to claim historic rights over almost the entire South China Sea.
The Philippines, however, has decided to resolve the sea disputes with China through a peaceful and diplomatic approach due to Beijing’s refusal to accept the PCA ruling.
Duterte clarified that while he is avoiding possible tension with China, he is “not allied with anybody”.
He said he considers both China and the US as “friends”.
“America is my friend. China is my friend,” Duterte said. “I am not against the Chinese, neither the American. I don’t know but I am not a pro-American. I am just a Filipino government worker working for the interest of my country.”
Duterte likewise said he would not participate in any war, as it would only be disadvantageous to the Philippines.