“China is a good friend. We owe them a debt of gratitude for the vaccines. So China, let it be known, is a good friend, and we do not want trouble with them, especially a war,” Duterte said during a cabinet meeting late Wednesday, transcripts of which were released Thursday.
Bilateral tensions in the South China Sea have risen lately over Beijing’s refusal to remove its ships and boats from Manila’s exclusive economic zone. The diplomatic spat between began after the Philippines said it had spotted some 240 Chinese vessels at Whitsun Reef in early March. Beijing also claims the reef in the Spratly Islands as part of its territories in the waterway. China ignored the Philippines’ demands for a pullout, prompting Manila to file daily diplomatic protests with Beijing, including on Thursday. Manila claims the Chinese ships are crewed by maritime militia.