Duterte: We will occupy claimed islands in South China Sea

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MANILA: The Philippines will upgrade existing facilities on its inhabited islands and reefs in the South China Sea and not occupy new territories, adhering to a 2002 informal code in the disputed waters, defence and military officials said yesterday.

A statement from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's office on Thursday said he had ordered troops to occupy uninhabited islands and shoals that the Philippines claims in the disputed waterway, in an action likely to anger China.

Mr Duterte also said he may visit a Philippine-controlled island to raise the national flag.

But defence and military officials have subsequently clarified the president's comments.

"The president's order was very crystal clear. Occupy only the existing areas that we claim," a navy commander privy to plans in the South China Sea, told Reuters on Friday.

"The Philippines is not allowed to do that, occupy new territories in the Spratly, based on the 2002 agreement," said the navy official.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, where about US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) worth of sea-borne goods pass every year.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims.Defence Minister Delfin Lorenzana said there were plans to only repair and upgrade facilities in the Spratlys. The Philippines occupies nine islands and reefs in the South China Sea. - REUTERS

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