Duterte says he'll ask Xi if China wants to control passage in South China Sea
President Rodrigo Duterte said on Wednesday that once and for all, he would ask Chinese President Xi Jinping if Beijing wants to control passage in the disputed South China Sea.
Duterte said he will raise this during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperatiomln-Association of Southeast Asian Nations Leaders’ Dialogue Meeting where Xi will also participate in Vietnam.
"It’s about time that ASEAN countries, not really to confront, but to make clear to us what China really wants," Duterte said in a press conference at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2 before leaving for Vietnam to participate in the APEC Leaders' Meeting.
Duterte currently chairs the ASEAN, whose members, such as Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, have also conflicting claims in the South China Sea like the Philippines and China.
"I suppose that I’d bring the matter because while we were focused on the dangers of North Korea, regarding its sabre-rattling and all are looking at it, and I do not take it against China. He has claimed every part of it and nobody stopped him. So I will just ask him, 'What are the stakes? You want to control the passage or do we have the free passage?'," he said.
"Unbridled, undisturbed, unmolested, while we use that small way from the Indian Ocean, the Indochina Pacific which is facing Palawan. Not because I’m so much interested as a person but for the sake of my country and the others who have the overlapping claims," he said.
"And that is why, the truth is, if I could only confront China or if it is China alone --- that’s the problem. But I said, there are contesting countries which have overlapping jurisdictions," he added.
Duterte said if he would engage China now, he has to engage also the other claimant countries.
"It would be something like a scramble there because if China concedes to one, Philippines, it has to concede to the others. And what will now happen to our general claim of being the economic zone belonging to my country? That’s a problem. So it’s about time either in the bilateral or in the plenary, I should be bringing this important matter to the surface," Duterte explained.
Duterte is set to meet also Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang when he attends the 31st ASEAN Summit and Related Summits in Manila next week.
He noted many countries have been pushing for the rule of law in the South China Sea, which has been claimed almost entirely by China.
"Look, we are all for a peaceful negotiations. It’s always a mouthful of leaders saying rule-based and the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) prescribes a peaceful resolution of conflicts of nations. We will stick to that," he said.
Japan has been one of the countries pushing for the rule of law and freedom of navigation in the disputed waters. Duterte recently visited Tokyo where he discussed the South China Sea issue with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Duterte said the Philippines and China are friends as he cited weapons Beijing donated to Manila while the government forces were pursuing the terrorists in Marawi City.
"These are the things that we cannot forget. But these things should not be used as, not really a pawn, but as bargaining chips on what is the greater interest of Southeast Asia and more particularly, the higher interest of our country," he said.
He said he thanks China for its support to the Philippines.
"But let us be clear on what we intend to do here because eventually it will affect the entire Philippine archipelago," he stressed.
China has built artificial islands reportedly equipped with military system in the South China Sea. CelerinaMonte/DMS