The Philippines sought to allay fears that US President Donald Trump will start a war with China over disputed territory in the South China Sea.
“I don’t think it will happen,” Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, 68, who spent more than a decade as defense attaché and war veteran’s representative in Washington, told Bloomberg in an interview.
“Trump is a businessman and he knows that if war breaks out, businesses will suffer.”
Newly confirmed US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson drew a sharp rebuke from Beijing last month when he said the United States would seek to prevent China from accessing facilities it built on artificial reefs in the South China Sea.
Lorenzana questioned whether that was even possible, saying: “How can you prevent something that’s already there?”
The Philippines has shifted toward China and Russia under President Rodrigo Duterte, undermining a security alliance with the US that has endured since World War II.
Both nations have pledged to support the Philippines as it embarks on a push to modernize its military to catch up with its neighbors over the next decade.
The Philippines and China are among six claimants to disputed territory in the South China Sea, a key trade route that also contains oil and gas reserves.
“I’m not going to wage war over those small islands,” Lorenzana said.
“Even if we have the military might, we will also think twice before we engage in a shooting war.”
Lorenzana will ask Congress for a defense spending increase of up to 2.5 percent of gross domestic product from the current 1.5 percent, which is around half what most of the Philippines’ neighbors currently spend, Bloomberg said.
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