POST-TYPHOON EFFORTS. President Rodrigo Duterte talks with a survivor of Typhoon Odette in Barangay Tisa, Cebu City on Thursday (Dec. 23, 2021). It was during his command conference with officials in the province that he reiterated the government will stay neutral in the China-Taiwan row. (Alfred Frias / Presidential photo)

MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte said his administration will remain neutral amid the escalating conflict between China and Taiwan.

Duterte said he was relieved that there is no tension in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) as it allowed the military and police to provide necessary assistance to victims affected by Typhoon Odette.

Mabuti na lang wala pang gulo dito sa (It’s good that there is no trouble yet at the) South China Sea),” he said in a command conference with local officials and military officials in Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu on Thursday and aired on state-run PTV-4 on Saturday.

Should tensions arise, he said he will not go to war against China.

Kung sabihin nila na mag-gulo sila tapos gamitin, eh (If they start to cause trouble here), I would never allow that for as long as I sit as President. Hindi na tayo magsali diyan sa (We will never take part in that). How can we match the firepower of China?” he added.

Duterte said the military and police are not equipped to face the regional superpower.

“They are not geared for war. Bakit ako sasali diyan na makita mo naman kung (why will we take part in that when we know) what’s happening?” he said.

A simple mistake could start a war in the region, the President said.

“Itong issue ng (This issue of) Taiwan. If it goes south, one simple mistake, miscalculation diyan, pagkatumama ‘yan sa, ‘yung mga missiles nila ulanin ‘yung (when missiles rain down on) Taiwan, then there is really war,” he said.

For Duterte, it is best to avoid conflict because it does not concern the Philippines.

“I said that minuscule lang tayo diyan sa power play nila (We are minuscule in their power play). It does not concern us. We do not have the -- except ‘yung South China Sea issue, which we’ll have to handle with the utmost diplomatic talent because we are not ready to confront China. Not at this time,” he said.

“We have the problem and it does not give us any reason to rise up in arms against China. That would be the most foolish thing that can ever happen there. We stay neutral. Bahala sila (Leave them be),” he added.

In October this year, tensions between China and Taiwan escalated when the former stepped up military activities near the main island.

China insists that Taiwan is part of its territory.

China, the Philippines, and several other littoral states have overlapping claims in the South China Sea.

In a 2016 arbitral ruling, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that Beijing's nine-dash line, a demarcation that covers almost 80 percent of the South China Sea, is illegal. (PNA)