President Rodrigo Duterte said he has asked the U.S. ambassador why America did not deploy an armada of warships to pressure China to stop constructing man-made islands that are now at the heart of regional concerns in the disputed South China Sea.
The U.S. Ambassador to he Philippines Sung Kim was unable to reply to the question the Pres. said when they met in Davao during his birthday.
Duterte said he told Kim that he was surprised by what he described as U.S. inaction when newspapers were publishing pictures of China's construction of runways and other structures on the newly built islands in the disputed waters.
"Had America really wanted to avoid trouble, early on ... why did you not send the armada of the 7th Fleet which is stationed there in the Pacific, you just make a U-turn and go there and tell them right on their face, stop it?" Duterte said he asked Kim, referring to the U.S. naval fleet based in Japan.
Kim, who arrived in Manila last year as American Ambassador, replied that he was assigned elsewhere at the time and could not give an answer, Duterte said.
The President repeated that he would not go to war with militarily superior China over the territorial conflict.
"The first thing that will be blasted away from this planet Earth will be Palawan," Duterte said, referring to the western Philippine island province facing the disputed waters. "All of the deposits of armaments of the Americans, including ours, are there.
When Duterte took office in June, he reached out to China to mend relations strained under his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, over the territorial dispute.
Duterte thanked President Xi Jinping over the renewed friendship and return of normal trade relations, praising the Chinese leader as "very kind."
Duterte, however, said he will invoke an international arbitration ruling that declared China has no historic title to the disputed waters if Beijing drills for oil or gas in a shoal contested by China and the Philippines.