BEIJING – A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves:
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a weekly look at the latest developments in the South China Sea, home to several territorial conflicts that have raised tensions in the region.
DUTERTE HALTS PLAN TO RAISE FLAG ON ISLAND AFTER BEIJING REQUEST
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte called off a plan to raise his country's flag on an island in the South China Sea following a request from China, in an apparent effort to maintain positive momentum in relations between the two countries.
Duterte has been seeking to strike a balance between Filipino claims to territory in the contested waters and his goal of better relations with Beijing, which claims the South China Sea almost in its entirety.
Duterte announced last week that he was canceling a plan to fly to a disputed island occupied by Filipino forces and villagers and raise his country's flag in the Spratlys region.
Duterte's approach doesn't sit well with critics who prefer a more assertive Philippine stance against Beijing's aggressive behavior in the resource-rich and strategic waters.
On a visit two weeks ago to the western Philippines' Palawan province, which faces the disputed waters, Duterte told reporters that he planned to visit Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island, internationally known as Thitu Island, in the disputed Spratlys to raise the Philippine flag on June 12 in time for his country's celebration of Independence Day.
Duterte told the Filipino community during a visit to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia last Wednesday that the trip was off. "China sent word that, 'please, do not do that,'" he said, adding that the Chinese government was concerned that if heads of state of rival claimant countries go to the disputed region "there'll likely be trouble."
"So because of our friendship with China, and because we value your friendship, we will not, I will not, go there to raise the Philippine flag," he said, adding that he may send one of his sons in his place.
While taking a tough line on illegal drugs and other crimes, Duterte has taken a soft approach on China since taking office in June in a bid to mend ties damaged by the territorial disputes.
Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.