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South China Sea | Philippines backs down in disputed waters after Beijing protest

South China Sea | Philippines backs down in disputed waters after Beijing protest

China claims nearly the entire strategic waterway where $3 trillion (£2.28 trillion) worth of sea-borne goods passes every year, building and militarising artificial islands.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte stopped construction work on a newly formed sandbar in the disputed South China Sea after China protested, the defense chief said yesterday, disclosing details of the territorial spat for the first time.

"I am chair of ASEAN and I have to carry the voice of the ASEAN [.] I have to tell the truth that everybody is anxious", Duterte said in a press briefing Thursday night after meeting with the Filipino community.

China's sweeping claims overlap with those of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan. Duterte said in a press briefing at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) before leaving for Vietnam to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

In 2016, an global tribunal ruled in a case filed by the Philippines that China's claims have no basis in worldwide law.

The Congressional report said that the United States should play a vital role in ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight for all countries by undertaking freedom of navigation operations on a regular and consistent basis, as well as maintaining persistent presence operations in the South China Sea. China refused to accept the ruling. It has instead fortified four of the six islands it occupies in the Spratlys with airstrips, hangars and shelters.

"Once assets are deployed to the Spratlys, it will make life much more hard for the Philippines and everyone else who has traditionally operated in and around the Spratlys and the waters west of the Philippines", said Amti Director Greg Poling.

Of particular interest is the Scarborough Shoal, which is claimed by both the Philippines and China.

Duterte sought to defuse tensions by ordering troops to pull out.

But the Philippines, under Duterte, decided not to use the verdict to pressure China, instead electing to build closer ties in return for billions of dollars in investments and aid.

Such a written code, he said, is necessary for claimants to safely navigate through the disputed sea now heavily militarized by China.

It has been turning reefs in the sea into islands, installing military aircraft and missile systems on them. "There are batteries. Meaning, the arms are poised to fly", he said.

"It is not wrong for me to tell China that you have already placed heavy artillery there. 'You know, Mr President, the whole of the ASEAN is anxious about how we should behave in the seas that are now militarized, '" said Duterte.

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