Manila [Philippines], May 1 (ANI): Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said that he will not withdraw navy and coastguard boats patrolling the disputed South China Sea and insisted that the country's sovereignty over the waters is "not negotiable".
He said late on Wednesday that while the Philippines is indebted to its "good friend" China for many things, including free COVID-19 vaccines, his country's claims to the waterway "cannot be bargainable", Al Jazeera reported.
"I'll tell China, we do not want trouble, we do not want war. But if you tell us to leave - no," Duterte said.
"There are things which are not really subject to a compromise, such as us pulling back. It's difficult. I hope they understand, but I have the interest of my country also to protect," he added.
Duterte's lack of a strong approach against Chinese actions in the South China Sea has drawn the ire of Filipinos on social media.
His remarks came after the country's defence department said China had "no business telling the Philippines what we can and cannot do with our own waters".
The Philippine coastguard is conducting drills near Thitu Island and Scarborough Shoal, as well as the Batanes islands in the north and the southern and eastern parts of the country.
In response to the exercises, China's foreign ministry said on Monday that the Philippines should "stop actions complicating the situation and escalating disputes". Other littoral states, including Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei, claim parts of the South China Sea. Taiwan also has a claim.
In recent weeks, Manila has boosted "sovereignty patrols" involving the navy coastguard and fisheries in the Spratly Islands - an archipelago contested by several countries.
The defence and foreign affairs ministries in the Philippines have been up in arms for a fortnight over the presence of 220 fishing boats suspected to be manned by Chinese maritime militia at Whitsun Reef, with statements flying back and forth over the alleged incursion into the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
Secretary of Philippines Foreign Affairs Teddy Locsin Jnr said last Wednesday he was "firing off another diplomatic protest" to China's embassy and would continue objecting "every day until the last one's gone like it should be by now if it is really fishing".
Even after such an intensifying row, China hasn't shown any sign of relocation of the vessels.
Instead, they have accused the Philippines of using a 2016 international tribunal ruling, which deprived China of certain outcrops of territorial-generating status, the ruling from the permanent court of arbitration effectively punches holes in China's all-encompassing "nine-dash" line that stretches deep into the South China Sea, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald.
The 2016 International Tribunal Ruling denies China of its thousand years of fishing rights in the area.
China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea and has overlapping territorial claims with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.
China has been increasing its maritime activities in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea over the past few months, partly in response to Beijing's concerns over the increasing US military presence in the region because of escalating Sino-US tensions.
Beijing's rising assertiveness against counter claimants in the East and South Sea has resulted in unprecedented agreement across the Indo-Pacific. (ANI)