Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday said that he was open to exploring the South China Sea’s natural resources with rival claimants China and Vietnam, after securing a “windfall” while in Beijing.
Duterte added that he had no immediate plans to pressure China over an international tribunal’s ruling last year that its sweeping claims to most of the sea were unlawful.
“If we can get something there with no hassle at all, why not,” Duterte told reporters when asked about a proposal for jointly exploring the sea with China and Vietnam.
He said the deal would have to be “fair and balanced.”
Duterte made no mention of Taiwan, Malaysia or Brunei, which also have claims to the sea.
The competing claims to the sea, which is believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits, have for decades made it one of Asia’s potential military flashpoints.
Beijing’s efforts to cement its claims in the sea in recent years by building artificial islands and expanding a military presence there have added to the tensions.
Duterte, who took office last year, abandoned the policy of his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, to forcefully challenge Beijing in diplomatic circles and instead sought to repair bilateral relations.
Duterte has said his decision has earned the Philippines billions of US dollars in Chinese investments and aid.
He spoke yesterday after returning from Beijing, where he had separate meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang (李克強) on the sidelines of China’s Belt and Road global infrastructure trade summit.
Duterte praised China’s leaders as “generous,” “very liberal” and “sincere.”
He described his trip to Beijing, his second since assuming office, as a “windfall” for the Philippines, saying more Chinese investments or aid had been offered although he gave few details.
Duterte said he told Xi and Li that he would not raise last year’s international tribunal ruling, which was filed by Aquino and deeply angered China.
“We decided that there is a time for me to ask about the ruling, but it is not now,” he said.
Xi hailed the “all-round improvement” of relations between the two nations during the forum, calling the Philippines an “important partner” in his Belt and Road infrastructure project.
Chinese and Philippines officials are to meet in China on Friday for the first round of bilateral talks on their dispute.
Aquino had avoided direct talks with China for fear of placing the Philippines in a vulnerable negotiating position.
Duterte said he wanted discussions to involve a code of conduct for the sea, which China and Southeast Asian nations have been discussing for about 15 years.
Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Liu Zhenmin (劉振民) and Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Santa Romana are to cochair the meeting in Guizhou Province, China.
Their talks are to follow the 14th meeting tomorrow of senior officials from China and ASEAN on the implementation of a code of conduct in the South China Sea.
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