• Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on South China Sea Dispute

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on South China Sea Dispute (Photo : Getty Images)

The United States should have sent a fleet to stop China’s construction on isles if it really intends to avoid conflict in the disputed territories in the South China Sea, said Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

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Duterte had a talk with U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim earlier this week. In their conversation, the Philippine President said that he was surprised that the U.S. did not deploy the 7th fleet of its navy to halt the Chinese from building infrastructure once the patrolling units spot them. The fleet is based in Japan and scouts the Pacific Ocean.

In his speech in Mindoro on Wednesday, Duterte brought up his conversation with Kim and quoted himself, saying, “[I said], I am surprised Mr. Ambassador, because had America really wanted to avoid trouble early on . . . why did you not send the armada of the 7th fleet? . . . and say to their face, ‘You cannot build manmade structures [in] high seas.’”

According to Kim, he was sent to watch over issues concerning North Korea at the moment.

Since 2013 and 2014, there have been reported Chinese advancements signaling intent to build structures in the disputed South China Sea islands.

China has continued to construct airfields, a harbor, cement plants, loading piers, communication facilities, defense structures and lighthouses at the Spratly Islands. The Chinese have also persisted with scouting activities in areas including the Mischief Reef.

The relationship between the Philippines and China had turned sour during the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, the previous president of the Philippines. The two countries were involved in a heated dispute over territories in the South China Sea.

China asserts its rights over the majority of the sea, even waters near the coast of the Philippines and other Asian countries.

Since his administration started in June 2016, Duterte has made efforts to restore the ties between the two countries. His four-day visit to China last October suggests the mending of the soured China-Philippines relations.

In his speech earlier this month, Duterte stated that his official visit to Beijing has led to a closer bilateral trade and people-to-people ties.

Talks between China and the Philippines are set in May. The dialogue will focus on the maritime dispute, including China's construction on isles.