On Tuesday, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte told a group of generals that "we would be glad" to have Chinese patrol vessels in Philippine waters off Sulu and Basilan, an area that has been plagued by pirate attacks by the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf.
Duterte said that he had asked China to contribute to patrols of the area. "They can't patrol international waters without necessarily intruding into the territorial waters of countries," he told the group. "We woud be glad if they have their presence there . . . It doesn't have to be gray ships. I said even the coast guard cutter [would work]." Duterte cited China's recent contribution to patrols in the High Risk Area off Somalia as an example of the PLA Navy’s ability to reduce piracy.
Since coming to power last June, Duterte has tried to defuse the longstanding tensions between the Philippines and China over claims in the South China Sea, and his overtures to Beijing have been well-received. Philippine development officials recently submitted a package of more than $3.5 billion in infrastructure proposals for Chinese loan financing; Chinese commerce minister Gao Hucheng has indicated that he fully agrees "with the proposals of the ministers," and that the two nations "need to strengthen our cooperation."
The fight against Abu Sayyaf continues
In his comments Tuesday, Duterte also warned of the arrival of the Islamic State, the Middle Eastern extremist group that has recently suffered a string of defeats at the hands of Syrian, Russian, Iraqi and American forces. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is engaged in a full-scale campaign against the IS-aligned militants of the Abu Sayyaf group in Sulu, Basilan and Mindanao. Five militants were killed on Tuesday on Sulu and seven were wounded in an intense series of firefights.
Abu Sayyaf is believed to be holding about two dozen hostages, including seafarers who were abducted in pirate attacks. Duterte has instructed the Philippine military to use lethal force against Abu Sayyaf without concern for harming the kidnapping victims.