Rodrigo Duterte, the frontrunner in this year’s Philippine presidential election, promised voters in a debate Sunday night that he would ride into the disputed territories of the South China Sea on a jet ski and plant the flag of the Philippines on the Spratly Islands, where China has built advance military infrastructure.
“I’ll go down, riding a jet-ski, carrying a Filipino flag … and then I would say, ‘This is ours, and do what you want with me,’” Duterte said at the debate, half in English and half in Tagalog. “I would stake that claim, and if they want to [kill me], you know, I have the ambition of being the hero, too,” he concluded.
The Philippines holds sovereignty over the Spratly and some of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, where the Chinese government claims to have “indisputable sovereignty.” China has built artificial islands on reefs belonging to the Philippines and placed advanced weaponry there, as well as forcing Philippine fishermen out of waters exclusive to their country.
In response, the Philippines has taken its case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague and requested the assistance of the United States in patrolling its territory to keep China from expanding further. The American government has promised “regular” patrols of disputed areas with Philippine accompaniment.
Duterte criticized China for refusing to accept the decision of The Hague court. Chinese officials have asserted that they will ignore the decision, regardless of whether it comes down in their favor. His strong anti-China remarks contrast significantly with comments last week in which he threatened to sever ties with the United States completely, leaving the Philippines vulnerable to further Chinese invasion.