Manila sends a message to both Beijing and Washington

By PCOO EDP ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

President of the United States Donald Trump has unexpectedly decided to show his "talent as a commander." At first, in Syria and now on the Far Eastern front, by sending a shock group led by the aircraft carrier "Karl Vinson" to the shores of the Korean Peninsula. At the same time, Filipino President Rodrigo Duteret makes some contradictory statements and gives no less controversial orders to the country's armed forces.

A few days ago, Duterte announced that he had given orders to occupy the disputed islands of the Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea and to create a kind of military infrastructure there. It is about ten small islands and reefs. "Everyone is trying to take these islands to themselves, it will be better if we'll take them ourselves," the Philippine leader said.

The total area of ​​the islands is about 5 square kilometers. The Spratly is the subject of a territorial dispute between six countries at once: Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Philippines and Brunei.  45 of the hundreds of small islands are occupied by small military garrisons. China claims all of the South China Sea, but this is challenged primarily by the Philippines and Vietnam. Taiwan owns a runway on Itu Aba, the Philippines - on the island of Pagasa, Malaysia - on the Swallow reef, Vietnam - in Southwestern Cayeme. China is creating a base on an artificial island on the Fayery Cross reef.

China intends to establish a permanent naval base in the territorial waters of the Philippines on the Scarborough shallows. This shows that the PRC is going to take full control of all disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea (the Philippine name of the South China Sea). China deployed to Scarborough its advanced points. There is always presented one navy ship of the Chinese People's Liberation Army.

President Duterte actually announced a confrontation with China by giving the order to deploy troops on disputed islands. Beijing immediately expressed concern about this. And, suddenly, the president of the Philippines abruptly changes his rhetoric. He said that the troops will be deployed on these islands without any offensive weapons: "These are only buildings with flags. China can relax, we are friends, we do not intend to enter the war, we are simply trying to balance the geopolitical situation."

In October 2016, Duterte announced the cessation of military and military-technical cooperation with the United States, which has a long history. Instead, he announced the creation and strengthening of military ties with China and Russia. However, there was no definitive break between Washington and Manila. President Trump, who was sympathetic to Duterte's tough management style and his ruthless war on the drug mafia, intended to establish relationship with Duterte, but eventually this idea stucked.

As for China, the populist Duterte who conducts a multi-vector policy, remains an extremely suitable figure. Obviously,the current Duterte's military-political escapade contains a hidden message for the US, with whom he is officially in confrontation, but still awaits the US assistance in case of aggravation of the situation with China. It is obvious that t Trump administration will sooner or later use this card to put pressure on the PRC.

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