Rappler reports that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte overrode his country’s military’s decision to build facilities for fisherman on Thitu Island in the South China Sea, after receiving complaints from China in August.
- It is not clear exactly when the decision for the military to withdraw was made, but according to Reuters, up until a day ago, Philippine contractors were constructing a beach ramp on the island with expected completion in early 2018.
- The island is part of the Spratlys, which the New York Times notes (paywall) is contested in whole or in part among six parties: China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
- The government of the Philippines asserts a strong claim on these islands, of which Thitu is the largest, and for five years has officially referred to the waters surrounding them as the “West Philippine Sea.”
- But President Duterte has in the past year overseen an ambitious program of appeasement to achieve warmer relations with China, and Rappler says he was unwilling to challenge Chinese boats gathering near Thitu on August 21, asking, “Why should I defend a sandbar and kill the Filipinos because of a sandbar?”
- Duterte’s Defense Secretary, Delfin Lorenzana, now agrees with the decision to halt construction on the islands, as the Philippines and China had earlier agreed to maintain the regional status quo in land features, and “it was indeed a new feature,” the Times reports. Lorenzana described the conflict as a “standoff.”
- Reuters reports that Duterte now plans to “ask China to make clear its intentions in the disputed South China Sea during Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in Vietnam,” and that the country will keep a “wary eye” on China’s new “magic island-making” ship.
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