Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte is sending troops to islands in the South China Sea

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte. Photo: Suhaimi Abdullah/ Getty Images.

Controversial Philippines leader Rodrigo Duterte has announced that he will be sending troops to uninhabited islands in the disputed South China Sea.

He says the Philippines needs to assert its jurisdiction in the region.

“The unoccupied [islands], which are ours, let’s live on it,” Duterte told reporters during a visit to a military base in Palawan.

“It looks like everybody else is making a grab for the islands there, so we better live on those that are vacant.

“I have ordered the armed forces to occupy all… at least, let us get what is ours now and make a strong point there that it is ours.”

The Spratly Islands. Photo: Google Maps.

Palawan is just east of the Spratly Islands, where rival claimants China have militarised artificial islands.

While the Philippines occupies nine features in the South China Sea, including a World War Two-era transport ship and Thitu, which is also known as Pag-asa, the second biggest island in the South China Sea that is also claimed by China, Beijing has claimed a majority of the territory.

In September last year Duterte’s national security adviser said he wanted to “demilitarise” the South China Sea to improve chances of a peaceful settlement among rival claimants, which also include Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

The move by Duterte is expected to provoke the Asian superpower just six months after the Filipino leader declared his “separation” from the United States and “realignment” with China.

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