MANILA, Philippines – China has never asked for any piece of real estate in the Philippines in exchange for financial assistance, said President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday, July 17.
He meant this as a form of assurance to critics of his pivot to China during a speech at the groundbreaking of two China-funded bridges in Intramuros, Manila.
"I'd just like to tell everybody that in all of these discussions, China did not ask [for] any, even one square of real estate in this country," he said.
In the audience were Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua, Chinese businessmen, and Filipino government officials.
Duterte then said that China cares about its position in geopolitics, after which he immediately mentioned the historic international arbitral ruling which invalidated Beijing's claim to the West Philippine Sea.
"Its geopolitics position is something that is critical to China and the stand which we disagreed [on] as we filed the arbitration case.... We have promised to deal with the problem from the President himself of the People's Republic of China that we will discuss this at some other time as China has to deal individually [with] bilateral relations and issues," said Duterte.
Critics of his approach to China point out that China's concern for its international image could be used by the Duterte administration to the Philippines' advantage. In particular, critics said the Duterte government could use the international ruling to unify other claimants to parts of the South China Sea and shame China into recognizing the decision.
Though Duterte insists China does not want Philippine land, several Chinese companies have pitched massive reclamation projects and the construction of casino-resorts on prime real estate. (READ: Chinese businessmen flock to Duterte's Malacañang)
In his Tuesday speech, Duterte also spoke of a "blueprint" of plans with China, but he did not specify what the plans are for. It appears, however, that this blueprint allows Beijing to determine how benefits would be distributed to the Philippines.
"We will allow them (China) the sufficient period to sort out things and I am sure [in] the end China will be fair and the equity will be distributed.... We would realize that China, after all, is really a good neighbor," he said.
In Duterte's April trip to China, he and Chinese President Xi Jinping greenlighted the crafting of a framework on joint exploration for oil and gas in the West Philippine Sea.
Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano had stressed it was important for the Philippines to be able to utilize resources in the sea, but still "stick to our claims." (READ: Del Rosario: PH 'a willing victim' 2 years after Hague ruling) – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.