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Philippines' Duterte says helpless against China
By Ayee Macaraig
Manila (AFP) April 27, 2017

Philippines seeks S. Korea warship donation
Manila (AFP) April 27, 2017 - The Philippines has asked South Korea to donate a decommissioned warship to Manila, the defence department said Thursday, to help them patrol their waters and perform counter-terrorism operations.

"We have transmitted a letter of intent to the South Korean government to acquire one Pohang-class corvette which we hope to get within the year," ministry spokesman Arsenio Andolong told AFP in a text message.

The vessel will be acquired at a "token fee" of $100, though it will be refurbished at the Philippine government's cost, he added.

"It will definitely enhance our capability to patrol our waters and perform counter-terrorism operations," he told reporters earlier Thursday.

Andolong said Seoul had offered a decommissioned corvette to Manila as early as 2014, but the donation was delayed while the government studied the terms of reference.

South Korea, along with the United States and Japan, are playing major roles in the modernisation of the Philippine armed forces.

Manila also ordered a dozen FA-50 fighter jets from a state-controlled South Korean manufacturer in 2015.

The navy and air force upgrades were originally aimed at improving Philippine military capability to patrol the South China Sea, including waters also claimed by China and other neighbours.

However President Rodrigo Duterte, who was elected last year, has sought to downplay the dispute while chasing billions of dollars in trade and investment from China.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday there was no point protesting Chinese artificial island building in disputed areas of the South China Sea because it could not be stopped.

Duterte made the comments ahead of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit this week, and he confirmed he would not use the event to pressure China on its expansionism in the strategically vital waters.

"It cannot be an issue anymore. It's already there. What would be the purpose also of discussing it if you cannot do anything," Duterte told reporters.

China has been turning reefs and shoals in areas of the sea claimed by the Philippines and other nations into artificial islands, and installing military facilities there.

The United States has criticised the construction work, warning against militarisation in the waterway where $5 trillion in annual trade passes.

China's reclamation has also rattled other claimants, which include ASEAN members Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

Duterte's predecessor, Benigno Aquino, had challenged China by asking a UN-backed tribunal to outlaw Beijing's sweeping claims to the sea and its reclamation work.

The tribunal last year ruled largely in the Philippines' favour.

However Duterte, who came to office shortly before the ruling was issued, adopted a pragmatic approach to dealing with China in a bid to win billions of dollars worth of trade and aid.

- 'US to blame' -

Duterte, who has also sought to loosen the Philippines' long-standing alliance with the United States, on Thursday blamed the superpower for failing to stop China's reclamation activities.

"Who can stop that? Us? It's only America. But how come they allowed that to happen," Duterte said, adding the United States could have used its navy to stop the reclamation work years ago.

Duterte said he would not raise the ruling during the ASEAN events this week, with the bloc's foreign ministers meeting on Friday and the leaders convening on Saturday.

"I will skip the arbitral ruling. It is not an issue here in the ASEAN," he said.

"It's only between China and the Philippines so I will skip that."

Duterte said he preferred to discuss a code of conduct on the South China Sea.

Philippine diplomats have said a "framework" code of conduct might be completed by June.

Duterte expressed optimism a code of conduct would ensure freedom of navigation and overflight in the waters.

"The code of conduct at sea is another story. It must be taken up," Duterte said referring to the ASEAN summit.

Analysts have cautioned that China has been delaying negotiations on a code since it was proposed 15 years ago, and used that time to build its artificial islands and take control of other contested features.

The ASEAN leaders will on Saturday express concern about events in the sea but will be less direct about island building, according to a draft of a chairman's statement to be released at the end of the summit.

"We shared the serious concerns expressed by some leaders over recent developments and escalation of activities in the area which may further raise tensions and erode trust and confidence in the region," the statement said.

However it did not mention China directly, nor the international tribunal's ruling.

Pentagon probes Trump's former national security advisor Flynn
Washington (AFP) April 27, 2017
The Pentagon said Thursday it is investigating President Donald Trump's former national security advisor Michael Flynn over payments he received from Russian government-linked firms. The Department of Defense said it was probing whether the retired lieutenant general failed to obtain required prior approval before accepting money from foreign governments. Flynn was specifically warned wh ... read more

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