Duterte hits U.S. inaction in South China Sea dispute

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 24) — President Rodrigo Duterte hit the United States once more — this time for failing to stop Beijing's building activities in the disputed South China Sea.

In a speech Thursday at the Integrated Bar of the Philippines' 16th National Convention of Lawyers, Duterte said the U.S. could have "cut the problem in the bud" had it taken decisive action.

"Why did you not at the first instance pinuntahan ninyo 'yung mga Instik doon nagta-trabaho, building structures there?" he demanded. "Bakit hindi mo sinita? Bakit hindi ka nagpadala ng limang aircraft carrier at kinasahan mo?"

[Translation: Why did you not, at the first instance, go to the Chinese working and building structures there? Why didn't you admonish them? Why didn't you deploy five aircraft carriers and threaten to fire on them?]

Duterte also said only the U.S. can confront China, repeating his earlier statement that the Philippines has no capability to challenge Beijing's aggressive moves.

Read: Duterte: We can't stop Chinese structures in Panatag Shoal

"Itong sa China po, hindi talaga kaya natin," he said. "China will go to war. Tama yung si (President Benigno) Aquino (III). It was only America to deal with that problem, hindi tayo."

[Translation: We cannot take on China. China will go to war. President Benigno Aquino III is right. It was only America that could deal with that problem, not us.]

The Philippines, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan all have rival claims to the South China Sea.

Beijing is the most aggressive in asserting its claim, building structures on contested areas and ignoring a 2016 international arbitral court ruling favoring the Philippines in their overlapping claims.

Read: PH wins maritime arbitration case vs. China

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last January that the U.S. wants to send a "clear signal" to China by denying it access to the disputed islands.

Read: Trump, Tillerson and the South China Sea: What's at stake

In his speech, Duterte pointed out that the Philippines cannot afford to go to war over the South China Sea because this would result in a massacre.

"(All it takes) is one solitary shot," he said. "It could lead to an explosion and it could lead into war and it will be a slaughter. Wala tayong mga cruise missiles. We are no match and we have to be brutally frank to admit it."

[Translation: All it takes is one solitary shot. It could lead to an explosion and it could lead into war and it will be a slaughter. We don't have cruise missiles. We are no match and we have to be brutally frank to admit it.]

Friendship and sharing

Duterte reiterated that the Chinese are not building anything on Panatag Shoal "in deference to our friendship" and that he is open to joint mineral exploration in the contested waters.

Read: Duterte: China won't build on Panatag out of respect

"Hindi naman ako madamot," he said. "Ang gusto kong kunin ang lahat, (pero) wala naman tayong pang-capital, even in the rigs and everything. Baka sharing-sharing na lang."

[Translation: I am not greedy. I want to take it all, but we don't have the capital, even for the rigs and everything. It might be better to share with them, instead.]

The Duterte administration has been pushing for closer ties with China, but the President has vowed to assert the arbitral tribunal's ruling to the Chinese government at some point.

"During my term, there will be a time that I will mention to you about the arbitral ruling and we'll have to talk about it because you claim it to be yours, it is also ours by judgment," he siad. "What is the due time? When you start to dig there the minerals, the riches of the bowels of the sea, kasali tayo [we'll be part of that]."