Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has called upon the United States to declare war on China over tensions in the South China Sea, in another show of his renegade style of global diplomacy.
The Asian strongman urged Washington to deploy its entire 7th Fleet — military assets composed of up 80 ships and submarines — to push China out of the contested region.
In daring the US, Duterte said: “Let’s bomb everything.”
'I have a proposal'
"I have a proposal," Duterte said, as quoted by Business Insider. "If America wants China to leave, and I can't make them...I want the whole 7th Fleet of the armed forces of the United States of America there."
"When they enter the South China Sea, I will enter," he said. "I will ride with the American who goes there first. Then I will tell the Americans, 'Okay, let's bomb everything.'"
The Philippines is one of five nations with claims in the disputed South China Sea, a 3.5 million sqkm body of water with hundreds of natural islets, reefs, atolls, rocks — as well as new man-made islands.
The area contains not only rich fishing grounds, but also potential natural resources. It is also a shipping corridor vital to global trade.
Duterte's recent dare was also addressed to the opposition at home, particularly the growing criticisms even among his supporters towards the cozy attitude he has towards China.
More than 90 outposts are already built on contested features in the area — some had been expanded recently, with landing strips, missile sites and radar facilities.
China has dismissed competing claims. It doubled down on its control over the area by building a network of military bases on man-made shoals and reefs.
The US has condemned Chinese expansion in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, the US military regularly send warships and aircraft on "freedom of navigation" operations and “overflights” (Fonops) to challenge Beijing’s claim and assert Washington's belief that the area constitutes international waters.
On Monday night, Duterte told reporters such measures are insufficient.
He added that he would be willing to help if the US wants China out of the South China Sea.
Duterte's inflammatory speech was his second in a week.
On Saturday, Duterte also said America should be the one to declare war against China if it wants to help the Philippines assert its rights in the region’s disputed waters.
During a speech marking the opening of a rice processing plant in Alangalang on the central island of Leyte, the president said the US is always "pushing us, egging us" towards war with Beijing, "making me the bait," he was quoted by the Philippine Daily Inquirer as saying.
Ginagawa akong bait. Anong tingin ninyo sa Pilipino, wati (They’re making me a bait. Do you think Filipinos are earthworms)?” he added.
"Now, I say, you bring your planes, your boats to South China Sea. Fire the first shot, and we are just here behind you. Go ahead, let's fight."
The U.S. and the Philippines have a mutual defense agreement, but some Filipino lawmakers have warned that the country could be dragged into a war with China against its wishes.
For his part, Duterte has cast doubt on Washington's willingness to come to Manila's aid in the event of a conflict.
"America said, 'We will protect you. We will — your backs are covered, I'm sure,'" he said in March. "But the problem here is...any declaration of war will pass Congress. You know how bulls*** America's Congress is."
Tensions between Beijing and Manila have been raised following the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat in June, which left left 22 fishermen drifting in the South China Sea near the Reed Bank in the Spratlys.
As pressure built on Duterte, the strongman dismissed it as a "little maritime incident". The Chinese vessel that rammed the Filipino boat and was blamed for the incident had fled the. A passing Vietnamese ship eventually rescued the stranded sailors.
China denied it was a hit-and-run, adding it would hanled the issue in a “serious and responsible manner”.
In the past, US President Donald Trump had offered to mediate in the protracted feud of the South China Sea.