MANILA, Philippines—The Philippine foreign secretary said Friday his country won’t take any steps against China in response to reports it apparently has installed anti-aircraft and anti-missile weapons on its new artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea.
Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said that while the United States and other countries might take actions to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight in the disputed waters, the Philippines will not take any steps that would reignite tensions.
When asked if the Philippine foreign affairs department plans to issue any statement or ask China to clarify, Yasay said, “We want to make sure that there will be no further actions that will heighten the tensions between the two countries, particularly in the Scarborough Shoal.”
He was referring to a disputed fishing area off the Philippines’ northwestern coast where tensions recently eased when Chinese coast guard ships allowed Filipinos to fish after blocking them from the area for years. China’s change of tact came after President Rodrigo Duterte met his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, in Beijing in October.
Once-hostile ties with China have improved under Duterte, who has reached out to China and Russia while taking a hostile stance toward the U.S. government, which has criticized his bloody crackdown on illegal drugs.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a U.S. security think-tank , said in a report late Wednesday that China appears to have installed anti-aircraft guns and close-in weapons systems designed to guard against missile attack on its seven newly created islands in the disputed sea.
Yasay said in a news conference in Singapore, where he and other officials are accompanying Duterte on a visit, that “there is nothing that we can do about that now, whether or not it is being done for purposes of further militarizing these facilities that they have put up.”
“We cannot stop China at this point in time and say ‘Do not put that up.’ We will continue to pursue peaceful means at which all of these can be prevented,” he said.
His remarks differed from Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who expressed concerns over the CSIS report and said the government was attempting to verify it.
“If true, it is a big concern for us and the international community who uses the South China Sea lanes for trade,” Lorenzana said Thursday. “It would mean that the Chinese are militarizing the area, which is not good.”