Duterte to tell Xi to "hurry up" code of conduct in disputed waters
Concerned over China's militarization in the South China Sea, President Rodrigo Duterte said he would ask Chinese President Xi Jinping to fast-track the agreement on the written code of conduct in the disputed waters.
In an interview with reporters on Thursday night at the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders' Meeting in Vietnam, Duterte said he would extend by two hours his stay in Da Nang in order to hold a bilateral meeting with Xi on Saturday before returning to Manila.
"I will tell him (Xi) straight. You know, Mr. President, the whole of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is worried about how we should behave in the seas that are now militarized...those arms and they are not there for any other purpose. They are not decorations. They're there because China would need them. For what purpose, I do not know," he said.
"But if it is for war against us, then forget it. I’m not interested to go to war with China. I’m interested in the friendship. But I said again, I have to ask him questions reflecting the sentiments of the ASEAN countries," he said.
He said China's militarization of the South China Sea was also a concern because the area is being used as a passage by many vessels.
As current chairman of the ASEAN, he said he has to "carry the voice" of the regional bloc regarding the South China Sea issue.
Aside from the Philippines and China, other ASEAN member countries, which have also claims in the disputed sea are Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam. Taiwan has also claim in the South China Sea.
"I have to tell the truth that everybody is worried...up to where are we supposed and to what extent would be the use of that passage. The best way is to have a written code of conduct. So just you read it and you'd know that you are not crossing boundaries because as of now, it is a contested claim," Duterte said.
He added that he would insist to Xi to "hurry up" the written document on the code of conduct of parties in the South China Sea.
"The Code of Conduct is very important. I’m not criticizing China. I’m just telling them that it is high time for us to have that Code of Conduct of the Sea," he said.
Last May, China and ASEAN agreed on a framework for code of conduct in South China Sea. But the framework was just a mere outline and has no binding effect.
Duterte explained why he had to order the military to remove the nipa hut in the newly-formed sandbar near the Philippine-claimed Pag-asa Island in Kalayaan municipality, Palawan province.
"It was not because of China alone. But you'd be facing a multiple action against the contestants which are claiming overlapping jurisdictions here in (South) China Sea," he said.
He said he did not want another controversy to arise.
But as far as Pag-asa is concerned, Duterte said the Philippines would not give up on it even if China has been claiming it too.
"We've been there since 1970s. So if it is not a claim, then but we are not moving our there. I will not. I am telling you now, I will not authorize any movement to leave the island," he said.
Duterte reiterated that China is "a good friend" of the Philippines.
He cited China's donation of weapons, which were used in addressing rebellion in war-torn Marawi City.
"I do not want to lose the friendship of China," he added. Celerina Monte/DMS