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MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday, March 23, said China gave its word not to undertake construction on the disputed Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Speaking before lawyers during the national convention of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) at the Marriott Hotel in Pasay City, Duterte said he has secured commitment from China following reports that an environmental monitoring station was going to be built on the shoal.
Xiao Jie, mayor of China's Sansha City in the disputed sea, had been quoted as saying that preparatory work was underway. The Chinese Foreign Ministry, however, has since denied that Beijing plans to build on Scarborough Shoal.
"I got word from the Chinese government, that in deference to our friendship, they want to preserve the relations, do not turn it sour, they are not building sa (in) Panatag. I told them thank you… they said nothing [will be built] on Panatag, [they] will never do it there," Duterte said.
On the improving relations between the two countries, Duterte again mentioned that China offered to fund infrastructure projects in the Philippines, including the construction of two bridges spanning the Pasig River.
"Ang China talaga o, gusto tayong gawin na probinsya nila," the President said in jest. (They really want to make the Philippines a province of China.)
Duterte also said once more that he is open to joint exploration in the West Philippine Sea, which he had mentioned during the campaign period in February 2016.
"You claim it to be yours, it is also ours by judgment. Sabi ko mag-usap talaga tayo, mabuti 'yung mag-klaro tayo, when is that? In due time. When is due time? When you start to dig there the minerals, the richest of the bowels of the sea, kasali tayo. Kalabitin ko na siya... Hindi naman ako madamot... wala naman tayong pang-kapital, even in the rigs and everything, we cannot afford it, baka sharing-sharing na lang," he said.
(You claim it to be yours, it is also ours by judgment. I said we should really talk, it's good to clear things up, when is that? In due time. When is due time? When you start to dig there the minerals, the richest of the bowels of the sea, we should join you. I'll call China's attention... I'm not selfish... and the Philippines doesn't have capital anyway, even in the rigs and everything, we cannot afford it, so maybe we can just share.)
The President on Thursday also hit the United States anew, saying it should have prevented tensions from escalating in the disputed sea.
"We were warned by everybody that something was afoot there, that something was going to be built there, bakit ang Amerika, sila naman ang puwedeng pumunta do'n (America is the one which can go there)... they could have solved the problem in the bud," Duterte said.
The US Navy recently deployed a US aircraft carrier strike group, the USS Carl Vinson, to patrol in the South China Sea despite strong opposition from Beijing. (LOOK: IN PHOTOS: PH officials aboard USS Carl Vinson in South China Sea) – Rappler.com