DAVAO CITY, Philippines – While President Rodrigo Duterte said the visit of 3 Chinese warships to his hometown prove the friendly ties between the Philippines and China, he was quick to point out another observation: the Asian giant's military might and the risks this poses to his country.
"Very impressive," said Duterte about the warships on Monday, May 1, during a chance interview with reporters.
"It's run by a computer and look at the way their missile launchers are pointed at us. It will be lowered a little. At the angle, sabog tayo dito lahat (we'll all get blown up)," he joked.
The 3 ships Duterte inspected are China's guided missile destroyer Chang Chun (DDG150), guided missile frigate Jin Zhou (FFG532), and type 903 replenishment ship Chao Hu (890).
All are docked in Davao City's Sasa Wharf until Tuesday, May 2.
"It is part really of confidence-building and goodwill. And to show that we are friends," said the Philippine President.
It was he, apparently, who asked China to let him aboard their warships.
"That's why I welcome them here and I was the one who asked it, 'Show me your warships,'" said Duterte.
He was accompanied during the inspection by Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, and Chinese navy officers.
Though the tour impressed upon him China's military might, Duterte's message in guided missile destroyer Chang Chun's guest book was one of peace.
"Weather the waves, journey on seas of peace, freedom and friendship," wrote Duterte.
First visit in years
It has been 7 years since Chinese warships docked at a Philippine port. The last time was in 2010 under the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was also on friendly terms with Beijing.
During the administration of Arroyo's successor, Benigno Aquino III, no Chinese warship visited the Philippines. It was under the Aquino presidency that the Philippines filed a case against China for its expansive claim in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) before an international court.
The move angered China. It was not until Duterte's state visit to Beijing last year that diplomatic ties were "fully restored."
The visit of the Chinese warships came after the end of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit chaired by Duterte.
Their soft stance toward Beijing is said to signal China's growing influence over the region. Warships in Duterte's hometown also indicate his determination to be on China's good side.
Despite this, Duterte risked earning China's ire by insisting that his government's plans to "repair" facilities in Pag-asa Island in the South China Sea will push through.
China claims Pag-asa Island as its own, and says any activities by the Philippines on the island are "illegal." – Rappler.com