As he faces increasing pressure from critics to protect the Philippines’ territories from China’s aggression, President Rodrigo Duterte dared the United States on Friday to declare war against the Asian superpower and said that he would follow their lead if they do so.
Duterte said this in a public speech delivered during the opening of a rice processing plant in Alangalang, Leyte.
The president started his diatribe against the U.S. by accusing its government of allegedly encouraging the Philippines to declare war against China.
“There’s always America pushing us, egging us, ‘Go, go!’ They’re using me as bait [to get China]. What do you think of Filipinos, earthworms?” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
“Now, I said ‘Bring all of your planes, your ships [and confront] China, fire the first shot. We will be behind you.’ Let America declare the war. Let them assemble all their armaments there in the South China Sea. Fire the first shot and I’d be glad to do the next.”
Duterte’s government is generally perceived to have pro-China policies, with the president even announcing an economic and military split from the U.S., one of its oldest allies, to align himself ideologically with China.
While Duterte has since cooled off and considers U.S. President Donald Trump a “good friend,” his warm relationship with China continues to be a subject of criticism.
It became worse with his refusal to criticize the Asian superpower after a Chinese-owned vessel slammed and sunk a Filipino fishing boat near Recto Bank (aka Reed Bank) last month. Critics called him a coward for downplaying the boat sinking, but Duterte has consistently said that he was not willing to go to war against China over “a mere maritime incident.”
Duterte also said it was the United States’ fault in the first place that China was able to construct facilities in the contested Spratly islands, which both China and the Philippines are claiming.
“The United States, they knew [about the construction]. They have a Seventh Fleet [in Japan]. Why didn’t they send it to the Spratly and say ‘Hey guys, you are not supposed to build artificial islands in the high seas. That is exactly prohibited by international law and the fact is you are constructing it within the exclusive economic zone of our friend, the Philippines’?”
“They left them to build it, now it’s all there. All the guns are there, all the missiles are mounted,” Duterte added.
The president also took a swipe at his critics who have lambasted him for failing to enforce the 2016 decision of the United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration which invalidated China’s claim over parts of the West Philippine Sea (aka South China Sea), including the Recto Bank.
Duterte said on Friday that it’s hard to enforce the ruling because it might lead to a war with China.
“Now these idiots, they are attacking me on the collateral that I should bar China from fishing, from destroying [the reefs]. They want me to go there. How do I enforce the arbitral ruling? I’ll go there, I’ll bring the Navy with me and I insist and say, ‘Hey, you guys, you go out.’ And China [would say], ‘No, what do you want?’ So we will end up in war.”