"If we go there to assert our jurisdiction, it will be bloody," Duterte said in a televised briefing late on Monday, his first remarks after hundreds of Chinese vessels were spotted at a disputed reef in March.
"I'm not so much interested now in fishing. I don't think there's enough fish to quarrel about," he said, adding that in future disputes over marine resources he would send "five coastguard ships, and they can chase … They can play with each other, and see who's faster".
"But when we start to mine, when we start to get whatever it is in the bowels of the China Sea, our oil, by that time I will send my grey ships there to stake a claim," he said, referring to Philippine naval ships.
Duterte said that a conflict with China would not end "without any bloodshed" and Manila might not be able to win such a confrontation.
However, Duterte claims that "there is no other way but a war" to enforce a 2016 Hague tribunal ruling that confirmed the Philippines' sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone.
"We can retake it only by force. There is no way we can get back what they call the Philippine Sea without any bloodshed," he said.
Philippine president Duterte also said he was "not so much interested" in confronting China over fishing rights in the disputed waterway.
"I'm not so much interested now in fishing. I don't think there's enough fish to quarrel about," Duterte said.
"But when we start to mine, when we start to get whatever it is in the bowels of the China Sea, our oil, by that time, I will send my grey ships there to stake a claim," he said, referring to Philippine naval ships.
"If they start drilling oil there, I will tell China, is that part of our agreement? If that is not part of our agreement, I will also drill oil there," he said, adding, "If they get the oil, that would be the time that we should act on it."
His remarks came after hundreds of Chinese vessels were seen at the Julina Felipe Reef, a disputed coral reef that is far West of the archipelagic province of Palawan, as well as other parts of the West Philippine Sea.
Philippine Defense Chief Delfin Lorenzana said naval ships can patrol the country's exclusive economic zone, after the president said that "nothing will happen" if the nation sends its ships "because we are not in the possession of the sea".
The latest development comes at a time of serious tensions over the disputed South China Sea islands between the two countries in the past weeks. As with Vietnam, the Philippines have repeatedly protested China's presence and have deployed more vessels in disputed areas. However, unlike Vietnam, Duterte has not directly asked the United States for help.
Duterte's inflammatory remarks come even though he had tried to seek rapprochement and cooperation with China since coming to power about five years ago.
Earlier this month, the Philippines accused China of scattering "maritime militia" inside the Philippines' 200-mile exclusive economic zone at Whitsun Reef in the South China Sea.
China has disputed that idea, saying the boats were sheltering from rough seas and no militias were on board.
As many as 200 Chinese ships have now been seen at Whitsun Reef, approximately 320 kilometers West of Palawan Island, and within the Philippine EEZ.
Manila had earlier urged Beijing to withdraw the ships, calling their presence in the area an "incursion into its sovereign territory."
Parts of the South China Sea, which are said to be rich in untapped oil and gas reserves, are claimed by China's neighboring countries, including the Philippines.
The Philippines were successful with an arbitration case in regard to the dispute at The Hague-based International Court of Arbitration in 2016, which rejected Beijing's sweeping claims to much of the disputed waterway. China rejected that ruling as void.
The United States, which sides against Beijing in the maritime dispute, routinely sends warships and warplanes to the South China Sea to assert what it calls its "right" to "freedom of navigation", increasing further tensions with China.
Beijing has warned the US against its military activities in the sea, saying that potential close military encounters by the air and naval forces of the two countries in the region could easily trigger accidents.
The South China Sea disputes involve both island and maritime claims by several sovereign states within the region, namely Brunei, the People's Republic of China , Taiwan , Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. An estimated US$3.37 trillion worth of global trade passes through the South China Sea annually, which accounts for a third of the global maritime trade. 80 percent of China's energy imports and 39.5 percent of China's total trade passes through the South China Sea. The disputes involve the islands, reefs, banks, and other features of the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands, Scarborough Shoal, and various boundaries in the Gulf of Tonkin. There are further disputes, such as the waters near the Indonesian Natuna Islands, which many do not regard as part of the South China Sea. Claimant states are interested in retaining or acquiring the rights to fishing stocks, the exploration and potential exploitation of crude oil and natural gas in the seabed of various parts of the South China Sea, and the strategic control of important shipping lanes.
The Philippines began exploring the areas west of Palawan for oil in 1970. Exploration in the area began in Reed Bank/Tablemount. In 1976, gas was discovered following the drilling of a well. However, the PRC's complaints halted the exploration. On 27 March 1984, the first Philippine oil company discovered an oil field off Palawan, which is an island province bordering the South China Sea and the Sulu Sea. These oil fields supply 15% of annual oil consumption in the Philippines.
Vietnam and Japan reached an agreement early in 1978 on the development of oil in the South China Sea. By 2012 Vietnam had concluded some 60 oil and gas exploration and production contracts with various foreign companies. In 1986, the 'White Tiger' oil field in the South China Sea came into operation, producing over 2,000 tons of crude oil per year, followed by 'The Bear' and 'Dragon' oil fields. Offshore exploration activities in 2011 increased Vietnam's proven oil reserves to be the third largest in the Asia-Pacific region. However, the country is a net importer of oil products. In 2009 petroleum accounted for 14 percent of Vietnamese government income, down from 24 percent in 2004.
In 2017, after Chinese pressure, the Vietnamese government ordered Spain's Repsol to stop drilling in the disputed area. A joint-venture of Japanese Inpex and Petrovietnam plans to start drilling in the disputed area in 2021.
Since 2013, the PRC has resorted to island building in the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands region. According to Reuters, island building in the South China Sea primarily by Vietnam and the Philippines has been going on for decades; while China has come late to the island building game, its efforts have been on an unprecedented scale as it had from 2014 to 2016 constructed more new island surface than all other nations have constructed throughout history and as of 2016 placed military equipment on one of its artificial islands unlike the other claimants. A 2019 article in Voice of America that compared China and Vietnam's island building campaign in the South China Sea similarly noted that the reason why Vietnam in contradistinction to China has been subject to little international criticism and even support was because of the slower speed and widely perceived defensive nature of its island-building project.
China's actions in the South China Sea have been described as part of its 'salami slicing' strategy, and since 2015 the United States and other states such as France and the United Kingdom have conducted freedom of navigation operations in the region. In July 2016, an arbitration tribunal constituted under Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ruled against the PRC's maritime claims in Philippines v. China. The tribunal did not rule on the ownership of the islands or delimit maritime boundaries. Both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China stated that they did not recognize the tribunal and insisted that the matter should be resolved through bilateral negotiations with other claimants. On September 17, 2020, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom issued a joint note verbale recognizing the PCA ruling and challenging China's claims.
South-east facing aerial view of PRC-settled Woody Island. The island is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam. By May 1939, the Japanese had laid claim and occupied the Paracel and Spratly Islands. During World War II, the Empire of Japan used the islands in the South China Sea for various military purposes and asserted that the islands were not claimed by anyone when the Imperial Japanese Navy took control of them. Historical accounts note that at least France had controlled some of the features in the region during the 1930s. After the war, Imperial Japan had to relinquish control of the islands in the South China Sea in the 1951 Treaty of San Francisco which, however, did not specify the new status of the islands. The People's Republic of China made various claims to the islands during the 1951 treaty negotiations and the 1958 First Taiwan Strait Crisis.
Chinese claims in the South China sea are delineated in part by the nine-dash line. This was originally an 'eleven-dashed-line,' first indicated by the Kuomintang government of the Republic of China in 1947, for its claims to the South China Sea. When the Communist Party of China took over mainland China and formed the People's Republic of China in 1949, the line was adopted and revised to nine dashes/dots, as endorsed by Zhou Enlai. China's 1958 declaration described China's claims in the South China Sea islands based on the nine-dotted line map. The legacy of the nine-dash line is viewed by some PRC government officials, and by the PRC military, as providing historical support for their claims to the South China Sea.
The Geneva Accords of 1954, which ended the First Indochina War, gave South Vietnam control of the Vietnamese territories south of the 17th Parallel, which included the islands in the Paracels and Spratlys. Two years later the North Vietnamese government claimed that the People's Republic of China is the lawful claimant of the islands, while South Vietnam took control of the Paracel Islands.
In 1974, when a North Vietnamese victory in the Vietnam War began to seem probable, the PRC used military force in the Paracel Islands and took Yagong Island and the Crescent group of reefs from South Vietnam. The government of the PRC wanted to prevent the Paracel islands from falling under the control of North Vietnam, which at the time was an ally of the Soviet Union. The PRC had fought a brief border war with the Soviet Union in 1969 and did not want to have a Soviet presence near its coast, which is why China resorted to 'counterattack in self-defense'. The United States, in the middle of détente with the PRC, gave a non-involvement promise to the PRC, which enabled the People's Liberation Army Navy to take control of the South Vietnamese islands.
In the later half of 1970s, the Philippines and Malaysia began referring to the Spratly Islands as included in their own territory. On 11 June 1978, President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines issued Presidential Decree No. 1596, declaring the north-western part of the Spratly Islands as Philippine territory.
In 1988, PRC and Vietnam fought each other near the Johnson Reef. The PRC had obtained a permit from the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission to build five observation posts for the conduction of ocean surveys, and one of the permitted observation posts was allowed to be located in the Spratly islands region. The PRC chose to built its observation post on the Fiery Cross Reef, which was isolated from the other islands in the region and was not occupied by any state at the time. When it started to build the observation post in the terra nullius Fiery Cross Reef, Vietnam sent its navy to the area to monitor the situation. The two states clashed near the Johnson Reef, and after the clash, China occupied the Johnson Reef.
Fiery Cross Reef being transformed by the PRC in May 2015 In 1994, the PRC occupied Mischief Reef, located some 250 miles from the Philippine coast. Occupation was made in the middle of an energy resources race in the Spratlys, where China lacked a presence while the other countries were starting their oil exploration businesses. Mischief Reef marked the first time when the PRC had a military confrontation with the Philippines, an ally of the United States.
The occupation and/or control of most parts of the Spratly and Paracel islands has not changed significantly since the middle of 1990s. The PRC controls all of the features in the Paracels. In the Spratlys, Vietnam controls most features with 29 in total, while the Philippines has control of eight features, Malaysia with 5, the PRC with 5, and the ROC with 1. Balance of power in the Spratlys has greatly shifted since 2013, when the PRC started its island building activities in the region.
In 2012, the PRC took the Scarborough Shoal as a response to the Philippine navy's actions of stopping Chinese fishing boats in the area.
In September 2018, a South Korean navy destroyer traveled into what China sees as its territorial waters and a violation of Chinese law requiring permission to enter waters within 12-nautical-mile-wide of the Paracel Islands. A South Korean government official said the navy destroyer was taking refuge from a typhoon and not challenging maritime claims, though declined to comment on whether South Korea believes these disputed waters belong to China.
On 22 December 2020, the PRC claimed that the guided missile destroyer John S McCain had been 'expelled' after it "trespassed" into Chinese territorial waters close to the Spratly Islands. However this claim has been disputed by the US Navy.
In March 2021, 220 Chinese fishing boats were seen moored around Whitsun Reef in the Spratly Islands, a reef claimed by the Philippines as part of its exclusive economic zone. Philippines Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana accused China of 'provocative action of militarizing the area'.
2011 agreement On 20 July 2011, the PRC, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam agreed a set of preliminary guidelines on the implementation of the DOC which would help resolve disputes. This set of guidelines is based on an earlier agreement, also called DOC, from 2002, between China and the ASEAN Member States.
The agreement was described by the PRC's assistant foreign minister, Liu Zhenmin, as 'an important milestone document for cooperation among China and ASEAN countries'. Some of the early drafts acknowledged aspects such as 'marine environmental protection, scientific research, safety of navigation and communication, search and rescue and combating transnational crime', although the issue of oil and natural gas drilling remains unresolved. 'Following the spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea , China and ASEAN countries actively advanced the consultations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea,' with the forecast that the COC will be completed by 2021.
Chinese objection to Indian naval presence and oil exploration On 22 July 2011, the INS Airavat, an Indian amphibious assault vessel on a friendly visit to Vietnam, was reportedly contacted 45 nautical miles from the Vietnamese coast in the disputed South China Sea by a party identifying itself as the PLA Navy and stating that the ship was entering PRC waters. A spokesperson for the Indian Navy explained that as no ship or aircraft was visible, the INS Airavat proceeded on her onward journey as scheduled. The Indian Navy further clarified that 'here was no confrontation involving the INS Airavat. India supports freedom of navigation in international waters, including in the South China Sea, and the right of passage in accordance with accepted principles of international law. These principles should be respected by all.'
In September 2011, shortly after the PRC and Vietnam signed an agreement seeking to contain a dispute over the South China Sea, India's state-run explorer, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation said that its overseas investment arm, ONGC Videsh Limited, had signed a three-year agreement with PetroVietnam for developing long-term co-operation in the oil sector, and that it had accepted Vietnam's offer of exploration in certain specified blocks in the South China Sea. In response, PRC Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu, without referring to India by name, stated:
'China enjoys indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea and the island. China's stand is based on historical facts and international law. China's sovereign rights and positions are formed in the course of history and this position has been held by Chinese Government for long. On the basis of this China is ready to engage in peaceful negotiations and friendly consultations to peacefully solve the disputes over territorial sovereignty and maritime rights so as to positively contribute to peace and tranquillity in the South China Sea area. We hope that the relevant countries respect China's position and refrain from taking unilateral action to complicate and expand the issue. We hope they will respect and support countries in the region to solve the bilateral disputes through bilateral channels. As for oil and gas exploration activities, our consistent position is that we are opposed to any country engaging in oil and gas exploration and development activities in waters under China's jurisdiction. We hope the foreign countries do not get involved in South China Sea dispute.'
An Indian foreign ministry spokesman responded, 'The Chinese had concerns, but we are going by what the Vietnamese authorities have told us and we have conveyed this to the Chinese.' The Indo-Vietnamese deal was also denounced by the Chinese state-run newspaper Global Times.
Chinese policy on the South China Sea In Spring 2010, PRC officials reportedly communicated to US officials that the South China Sea was 'an area of 'core interest' that is as non-negotiable' and on par with Taiwan and Tibet on the national agenda. However, Beijing appears to have backed away from that assertion in 2011.
In October 2011, the PRC's Global Times tabloid, published by the Communist Party People's Daily group, editorialised on South China Sea territorial disputes under the banner 'Don't take peaceful approach for granted'. The article referenced incidents earlier that year involving the Philippines and South Korea detaining PRC fishing boats in the region. 'If these countries don't want to change their ways with China, they will need to prepare for the sounds of cannons. We need to be ready for that, as it may be the only way for the disputes in the sea to be resolved.' Responding to questions about whether this reflected official policy, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman stated the country's commitment 'to resolving the maritime dispute through peaceful means.'
In July 2014, Professor Alan Dupont of the University of New South Wales was reported as saying that the Chinese government appeared to be directing its fishing fleet into disputed waters as a matter of policy.
From 2013 to the beginning of 2018, China carried out land reclamation in the South China Sea. The construction of the islands has been completed. The three island airports of Meiji Reef, Zhubi Reef, and Yongshu Reef have been completed.
In August 2019, China's paramount leader Xi Jinping told Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte that China would not recognise or abide by the Arbitration decision. This occurred during a visit by Duterte to Beijing, with discussions between the two leaders. Such a stance by Beijing is in line with the July 2019 publishing of a Chinese White Paper, 'China's National Defense in the New Era,' which details China's armed strength and repeatedly mentions deployment in the South China Sea. On 22 September 2020, in UN Speech, the Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte reaffirmed the Hague ruling rejecting most of China's claims to disputed waters, and said "The award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish, or abandon."
Oil and gas development The area is said to be rich in oil and natural gas deposits; however, the estimates are highly varied. The Chinese Ministry of Geological Resources and Mining estimated that the South China Sea may contain 17.7 billion tons of crude oil, compared to the oil rich country of Kuwait which has 13 billion tons. In the years following the announcement by the PRC ministry, the claims regarding the South China Sea islands intensified. However, other sources claim that the proven reserves of oil in the South China Sea may only be 7.5 billion barrels, or about 1.1 billion tons. According to the US Energy Information Administration 's profile of the South China Sea region, a US Geological Survey estimate puts the region's discovered and undiscovered oil reserves at 11 billion barrels, as opposed to a PRC figure of 125 billion barrels. The same EIA report also points to the wide variety of natural gas resource estimations, ranging from 190 trillion cubic feet to 500 trillion cubic feet, likely located in the contested Reed Bank'.
The state-owned China Offshore Exploration Corp. planned to spend 200 billion RMB in the next 20 years to exploit oil in the region, with the estimated production of 25 million metric tons of crude oil and natural gas per annum, at a depth of 2000 meters within the next five years.
Competing claims in the oil and gas-rich South China Sea have stifled the development and exploitation of these resources. To break from this, the Philippines and China agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation on Oil and Gas Development in November 2018, where joint-use of, and not ownership over assets underlies the agreement. In the past, aggressive Chinese naval patrols deterred Manila from exploring gas deposits in disputed waters, like the Reed Bank, such that this type of agreement may allow for the claimant states to jointly develop the natural gas in the offshore area. The mechanism of joint agreements is not new, with Malaysia and Vietnam having forged a similar mechanism in 1992, while Malaysia and Thailand reached understandings in 1979 and 1990 over the development of gas-rich disputed waters.
China China's first independently designed and constructed oil drilling platform in the South China Sea is the Ocean Oil 981 . The major shareholders are J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. , Commonwealth Bank of Australia , T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. and affiliates , and BlackRock, Inc. . It began operation on 9 May 2012 in the South China Sea, 320 kilometres southeast of Hong Kong, at a depth of 1,500 m and employing 160 people. On 2 May 2014 the platform was moved near to the Paracel Islands, a move Vietnam stated violated their territorial claims. Chinese officials said it was legal, stating the area lies in waters surrounding the Paracel Islands which China occupies and militarily controls.
Incidents involving fishermen Prior to the dispute, fishermen from involved countries tended to enter each other's controlled islands and Exclusive Economic Zones leading to conflicts with the authorities that controlled the areas as they were unaware of the exact borders. As well, due to depletion of the fishing resources in their maritime areas, they were forced to fish in the neighbouring countries' areas.
A Taiwanese fisherman was machine gunned to death by the coast guard of the Philippines in May 2013.
In the spring of 2014, China and Vietnam clashed again over China's Haiyang Shiyou oil rig in Vietnam's EEZ. The incident left seventeen Vietnamese injured and damaged ships of both countries.
Although Indonesia is not part of claims in the South China Sea dispute, after Joko Widodo became President of the country in 2014, he instituted a policy in 2015 that, if any foreign fishermen were caught illegally fishing in Indonesian waters, their vessels would be destroyed. The president wanted to make maritime resources, especially fisheries, a key component of his administration's economic policy. Since the policy's initiation, fishing vessels drawing from many neighbouring countries were destroyed by Indonesian authorities. On 21 May 2015, around 41 fishing vessels from China, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines were destroyed. On 19 March 2016, the China Coast Guard prevented the detention of Chinese fishermen by Indonesian authorities after Chinese fishermen were caught fishing near the waters around Natuna, leading to a protest by Indonesian authorities; the Chinese ambassador was subsequently summonsed as China had considered the areas to be 'Chinese traditional fishing grounds'. Further Indonesian campaigns against foreign fishermen resulted in the destruction of 23 fishing boats from Malaysia and Vietnam on 5 April 2016.
Until late 2016, most fishing vessels blown up by Indonesian authorities were Vietnamese fishing vessels. Although Indonesian authorities increased their patrols to detect foreign fishing vessels, the areas in the South China Sea had already become known for Indonesian pirates, with frequent attacks on Malaysian, Singaporean and Vietnamese vessels as well as leading to hijacking such as the MT Orkim Harmony and MT Zafirah hijacking incidents. The continuing war against foreign fishermen by Indonesia led to protests by Vietnam in late 2016, when a Vietnamese fisherman was killed after being shot by Indonesian authorities. Attacks have also come from Filipino and Moro pirates arriving from the Sulu Sea; a Vietnamese fisherman was killed by Filipino pirates in late 2015.
Teodoro Locsin Jr., the Filipino Secretary of Foreign Affairs, said the Philippines was building a maritime fleet that could swarm areas in the South China Sea. He said the fleet build up was because of China which was also doing the same thing. He also said if one of the vessels got hit, the Filipino defense treaty with the United States would also be activated.