Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte warns China with 'military action' over disputed island

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gives a speech at the Malacanang palace in Manila on February 22, 2019. (Photo by AFP)
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to send his troops on a “suicide mission” if China does not back off from a disputed island in the South China Sea.
Speaking at a rally in the city of Puerto Princesa in Palawan, Duterte called on Beijing not to “touch Pagasa Island and the rest.”
“I will not plead or beg, but I am just telling you that lay off the Pagasa because I have soldiers there,” said the president, using the local name for Thitu.
“If you touch it, that's a different story. I will tell my soldiers 'prepare for suicide mission'."
Thitu, also known as Pagasa, is located in the Spratly group in the South China Sea.
Duterte made the remarks though he has repeatedly acknowledged that in an event of a military confrontation with China, his country would lose and suffer heavily.
China is involved in maritime disputes in the South China Sea, where several countries, including Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines, have overlapping claims.
It has also constructed several artificial islands over the past few years in the South China Sea, in a move that Washington has denounced as a land reclamation project.
The US, which sides with China's rivals in their territorial claims, also sends its warships close to the islands in what it calls “freedom of navigation” patrols.
Back in March, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington will defend the Philippines against "armed attack" in the disputed waters.
Reacting to Pompeo, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Beijing was committed to keeping peace and stability in the region. 
China has constantly warned Washington that close military encounters by air and naval forces of the two countries in the region could easily trigger miscalculation or even accidents at sea or in air.