Did China Threaten the Philippines?

As the dispute between China and the Philippines rages over the reefs in the South China Sea, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has reported that he and his country have been threatened with war by China.

In a meeting between Duterte and China’s president Xi, the Philippines President stated his country’s intentions: “We intend to drill oil there, if it’s yours, well, that’s your view, but my view is, I can drill the oil, if there is some inside the bowels of the earth because it is ours.”

The commented prompted a terse reply from the Chinese leader: “Well, if you force this, we’ll be forced to tell you the truth. We will go to war. We will fight you.”

While this response may have been expected, it came as a surprise to the international community that has been witnessing China’s attempt to woo the Philippines away from its relationship with the United States. In recent months, since Duterte’s election, Xi and other Chinese representatives have been proposing large financial investments through out the Philippines.

The news of threatened war comes on the heels of the discovery that China has been stockpiling rocket launchers throughout the reefs it is claiming in the South China Sea. These actions are in direct violation of a order handed down by the Hague. The award from July 2016 clarified Philippine sovereign rights in its 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone, which included access to the region’s offshore oil and gas fields.

With all of the unrest taking place in North Korea, which involves both the United States and China, a threat to ally the Philippines puts the US in an interesting predicament. A defiant China sits with the law on the side of the Philippines and the bully pulpit on China’s side with the US stuck somewhere in between.