Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has appealed to the Chinese government for military assistance to combat Islamic militants who have been attacking ships and kidnaping sailors off the country’s southern shores, he announced Tuesday.

Duterte asked Beijing to send sea patrols to the Philippines in a manner similar to 2009 when a Chinese naval fleet was deployed to the Gulf of Aden, according to Agence French Presse Tuesday. In that instance, China sent two of its most advanced warships to the gulf located on the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula to protect its sailors on shipping vessels from Somali Pirates.  

“I also asked China if they can patrol the international waters without necessarily intruding into the territorial waters of countries,” Duterte said during a speech to a group of freshly appointed Filipino generals.

Duterte added that “grey ships are not really needed,” indicating he wasn't asking for warships. Instead, “coast guard cutters would do, just to patrol, like what they did in Somalia,” he said.

The Filipino government has been battling to prevent the Islamic State group from extending its so-called caliphate to the Philippines’ southern island of Mindanao and instilling a culture of Islamic extremism. Approximately 20.4 percent of the population on the island of Mindanao was Muslim, according to a U.S. census in 2000.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the killing of 23 Filipino soldiers on the Philippines' Basilan Island by detonating seven trucks transporting military personnel last year, Reuters reported in April.

"With the grace of god we were able to detonate seven trucks carrying soldiers," the Islamic State said in a statement at the time.

Abu Sayyaf, one of the groups attempting to make Mindanao a hotbed for jihadi fighters, started attacking cargo ships and abducting sailors off the shores of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines last year and captured dozens of hostages. The militants were allegedly tied to ISIS in Syria and Iraq and in the past was aligned with al Qaeda.

“The association with Islamic State has injected a lot more vigor into groups such as Abu Sayyaf and other sympathizers in Indonesia and Malaysia,”  Richard Javad Heydarian, a Manila-based security analyst, told the Wall Street Journal in November 2016. 

The number of sailors kidnaped by Islamic extremists in 2016 was the highest it had been in the last decade. The southern shores of the Philippines witnessed the greatest uptick of abductions, according to an International Maritime Bureau report in January.

The move represented a significant shift in the Philippines’ political relations with the U.S., which had been the country’s main defense ally in the past. Since his election last year, Duterte has denounced the U.S. government for condemning his deadly war on crime and drugs in the Philippines. However, President Donald Trump assured him that he was handling his controversial efforts against drugs "the right way," Duterte said in December.