'Let's Bomb Everything': Philippines President Duterte Urges U.S. To Declare War on China

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte once again demonstrated his unconventional style of global diplomacy on Monday, calling on the U.S. to declare war on China over tensions in the South China Sea.

The strongman leader called on Washington to deploy the U.S. 7th Fleet—some 70 to 80 ships and submarines—to the South China Sea to push China out of the contested region.

The Philippines is one of five nations whose claims in the South China Sea overlap with Beijing's. The area contains rich fishing grounds, vital shipping routes and potential natural resources, but China has dismissed competing claims and enforced its control there by building a network of military bases on expanded or man-made shoals and reefs.

The U.S. has repeatedly condemned Chinese expansion in the South China Sea. American commanders regularly send warships and aircraft on "freedom of navigation" and overflight operations designed to keep pressure on Beijing and assert Washington's belief that the area constitutes international waters.

But Duterte told reporters Monday that such measures are insufficient, and that if the U.S. wants China out of the South China Sea, he would be willing to help.

"I have a proposal," Duterte said, according to Business Insider. "If America wants China to leave, and I can't make them...I want the whole 7th Fleet of the armed forces of the United States of America there."

"When they enter the South China Sea, I will enter," he said. "I will ride with the American who goes there first. Then I will tell the Americans, 'Okay, let's bomb everything.'"

Duterte's inflammatory speech was his second in three days, having also been beating the drum for war on Friday. During a speech marking the opening of a rice processing plant in Alangalang on the central island of Leyte, the president said the U.S. is always "pushing us, egging us" towards war with Beijing, "making me the bait," according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

"What do you think Filipinos are, earthworms?" he asked. "Now, I say, you bring your planes, your boats to South China Sea. Fire the first shot, and we are just here behind you. Go ahead, let's fight."

The U.S. and the Philippines have a mutual defense agreement, but some Filipino lawmakers have warned that the country could be dragged into a war with China against its wishes. For his part, Duterte has cast doubt on Washington's willingness to come to Manila's aid in the event of a conflict.

"America said, 'We will protect you. We will—your backs are covered, I'm sure,'" he said in March. "But the problem here is...any declaration of war will pass Congress. You know how bulls*** America's Congress is."

Tensions between Beijing and Manila have been especially high in recent weeks after the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat in June, which left left 22 fishermen drifting in the South China Sea near the Reed Bank tablemount.

A Chinese vessel, which fled the scene, has been blamed for the incident. A passing Vietnamese ship eventually rescued the stranded sailors.

Rodrigo Duterte, China, US, war
Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte attends the plenary session of the 34th Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit in Bangkok on June 22, 2019. LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty