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Ditherte threatens "suicide mission" if Beijing overstates South China Sea



Duterte's speech at a rally in the city of Puerto Princesa in Palawan came days after the Philippine government claimed that as many as 275 Chinese boats and ships were spotted in recent months around Manila's Thitu Island in the Spratly Island chain. "Let us be friends, but do not touch Pagasa Island and the rest," Duterte said, according to CNN Philippines, using the Philippine word Pagasa for Thitu.

"If you make moves there, that's a different story. I will tell my soldiers, 'Prepare for suicide mission.'"

"I will not plead or beg, but I'm just telling you that I lay off the Pag-so because I have soldiers there, "he said, according to CNN Philippines

CNN has reached out to the Philippine government for further comment.

A small Philippine military garrison as well as about 1

00 civilians are based on Thitu, which lies about 500 kilometers (310 miles) from Palawan, one of the islands that make up the Philippines.

Tensions have risen since the beginning of 2019 in the South China Sea, one of the world's most disputed regions and an important shipping lane.

The Philippines and China each claim overlapping areas of the vast sea, along with many other countries including Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. The area where Thitu is located is also claimed by China as part of its territory

The latest arrival of Chinese ships around Thitu Island has provoked a stern response from Manila.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs stated in a statement Thursday that their presence was "illegal" and a "clear violation of Philippine sovereignty."

"It has been observed that Chinese vessels have been present in large numbers and for sustained and recurring periods – what is commonly referred to as 'swarming' tactics – raising questions about their intentions as well as concerns about their role in supporting coercive objectives, "the Philippine statement said.

 A satellite photo from December 20, 2018 , showing the fleet of Chinese ships in the area around Thitu Island
Independent analysis by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the hundreds of vessels that have appeared around Thu Island since January has determined they are composed of dozens of fishing vessels as well as China Coast Guard ships and People

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang pointed to a meeting between Philippine and Chinese representatives to discuss a bilateral consultation mechanism to avoid South China Sea conflicts

"Diplomacy and intimidation

To reinforce its claims to the South," I believe that the consensus reached by the two sides through discussion in this meeting is the best answer to your question. China Sea, China has built and militarized artificial islands and has attempted to undermine other countries' positions through a combination of diplomacy and intimidation

Its aggressive moves in the region had antagonized previous Philippine administrations, which took Beijing to court to prove its claims against the sea

 Philippines protests hundreds of Chinese ships around the disputed island

But relations between China and the Philippines have warmed considerably since the 2016 inauguration of Duterte, which has pushed for a closer economic relationship with Beijing

"I need China. More than anybody else at this point, I need China, "Duterte said before flying to China in April 2018.

In comparison with his predecessors, Duterte has viewed the dispute in South China Sea as more negotiable than a matter of principle.
But China has been strengthening its hold over the region. In May 2018, Beijing announced it had successfully landed bombers on its islands under its control for the first time, a big step in the militarization of the region. States have also ramped up their freedom of navigation exercises in the region under US President Donald Trump, in a seeming attempt to hold back Chinese influence.

In a defiant statement to then-US Secretary of Defense James Mattis during a Beijing meeting in June 2018, President Xi Jinping said China would not give up any inch of territory.

Fishing vessels and naval ships

Philippines armed forces spokesperson Edgard Arevalo warned on Monday it was difficult to quantify how many ships are around the island at any one time, as Chinese ships come and go from the area.

 US flies bombers near the South China Sea islands

In an article published in February, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said the sudden increase in the number of ships between December and January appeared to be a response to recovery and construction by the Philippines government

"The fishing boats have mostly been anchored between 2 and 5.5 nautical miles west of Thiota, while naval and coast guard ships operate slightly further south and west," the AMTI said in an article.

"The fishing vessels display all the hallmarks of belonging to China's maritime militia, including having no gear in the water that would indicate their fishing activity and disable their Automatic Identification System (AIS) "

AMTI noted that Thitu is only about 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) from Subi Reef, one of China's main places fortified in its recent buildup in the South China Sea.

The Philippine Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that if the Chinese government did not refute the actions of the fishing vessels in the vicinity of Thita, it would be assumed to have directed them. "

The Duterte's administration has made threats of military action against Chinese troops in South China, Sea before which have come to nothing. In May 2018, his foreign minister threatened "war" if Beijing attempted to access oil and gas reportedly buried beneath the sea

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