After key ministers engaged in a verbal spat with Beijing, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has barred his cabinet from speaking out in public about the South China Sea conflict.
Tensions between Manila and Beijing over the waterway, which China controls almost completely, erupted in March when hundreds of Chinese boats were spotted within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone.
Though Duterte has resisted confronting China on the subject, his foreign and defense secretaries have repeatedly chastised Beijing for refusing to withdraw its ships from the disputed waters.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin issued an expletive-laced demand for the Chinese vessels to leave the region earlier this month.
Beijing chastised him for his online cursing, and Locsin later apologized to his Chinese counterpart.
“This is my order now to the cabinet… to refrain (from) discussing this West Philippine Sea (issue) with… anybody,” Duterte said in a recorded speech late Monday, using the local name for the sea.
“If we have to talk, we talk only among us,” Duterte told several cabinet members, including Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana who previously described the presence of Chinese boats as an “incursion”.
According to Duterte, presidential spokesman Harry Roque was given permission to speak publicly about the subject.
China has disregarded a 2016 international tribunal ruling declaring China’s historical claim to the majority of the South China Sea to be unfounded.
Duterte has agreed to suspend the ruling in return for Chinese assurances of trade and investment, which critics argue have yet to materialize.
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN