Duterte: West PH Sea dispute ‘takes back seat’ in state visit
BEIJING, China – Unless Chinese officials themselves bring up the West Philippine Sea dispute, President Rodrigo Duterte will keep his hands off the controversial issue during his ongoing state visit to China.
“I did not come here to agree to talk about the [South] China Sea and you can say it takes a back seat, of course, it has to take a back seat,” he told reporters on Wednesday, October 19, in a Beijing hotel.
But Duterte said the historic Hague ruling affirming the Philippines’ claim over the disputed sea and rejecting China’s will eventually be discussed.
“There will come a time when we’ll have to talk about it and the arbitral judgement is in a piece of paper and maybe by that time I will say, you know, we have to talk now and my issues will not go out of what is here,” he said.
Duterte intends to mention Filipinos’ fishing rights in the West Philippine Sea “in passing,” and only if Chinese officials bring it up.
“I have to be courteous, I have to wait for your President to mention it in passing for me to respond,” he said.
“It is in the broader aspects of talks but as a matter of courtesy and the oriental way, we’ll always wait because I am a visitor. I cannot destroy the good will by just blurting out something,” Duterte added.
Earlier, in front of Filipino reporters, he said he would mention fishing rights because “it’s very important, because it’s livelihood.”
Weeks before his state visit to China, Duterte said he would “demand” that China “give back” fishing rights to Filipinos. The arbitral ruling declares that parts of the West Philippine Sea, like Scarborough Shoal, are traditional fishing grounds to be enjoyed by Filipino, Chinese, and Vietnamese fishermen.
If Chinese officials bring up the maritime dispute, Duterte said most likely discussions will focus on parameters on how to proceed with future talks on the issue.
“If [President Xi] mentions it in passing, the arbitral judgement, and I would say, okay, if that is what you want, there are things which have to be talked of preliminarily, we can do it now. We can set the broad lines,” said the Philippine President.
He emphasized that “there will be no asking [for] concessions.”
Earlier, Duterte ruled out a proposing joint exploration with China until Congress gives its approval.
HIs statements came on the eve of his busiest day here. (READ: At a glance: Duterte's state visit to China)
On Thursday, October 20, Duterte will start his day with a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People.
President Xi Jinping will meet Duterte in Beijing for the first time. The two leaders and their officials will engage each other in an expanded bilateral meeting. After the meeting, Xi and Duterte will witness the signing of various agreements, primarily in trade and investments.
Duterte is also set to meet with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Later, the Philippine leader will keynote a trade and investment forum to he attended by Filipino and Chinese businessmen.
Next stop for Duterte is a meeting with National People's Congress Chairman Zhang Dejiang.
His day ends with a state banquet in his honor, most likely to be held in the Great Hall. – Rappler.com