MANILA – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday he will not push through with a proposal to raise the national flag on a disputed island in the South China Sea after Beijing asked him to abandon the plan.
“Because of our friendship with China and because we value your friendship, we will not, I will not go there to raise the Philippine flag,” Duterte said in a speech to Filipino residents in Saudi Arabia on the first day of his official visit there.
Duterte added that he will also refrain from setting foot on any of the other disputed islands occupied by the Philippines in the South China Sea in deference to China. “Maybe I will send my son just to show that our claim is really good for all generations of Filipinos,” he said.
Last week, Duterte said he has plans to fly to Thitu Island on June 12, during the Philippines’ Independence Day celebrations, to raise the national flag there to assert ownership of the 37.2-hectare island, which is home to a few hundred Filipinos.
Known locally as Pagasa Island, Thitu is part of a chain of Philippine-controlled islands in the South China Sea over which China, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan have overlapping claims.
Since taking office in June last year, Duterte has been seeking closer ties with China, in contrast to the more adversarial approach of his predecessor, Benigno Aquino. Aquino took China to an international arbitration court in 2013 to settle the territorial dispute between the two countries.
While the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague eventually ruled in favor of the Philippines in July last year by invalidating China’s sweeping claim in the South China Sea, Duterte has opted to set aside the ruling to cultivate closer ties with Beijing.