MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte will avoid discussing the landmark arbitral ruling the Philippines won against China on South China Sea claims during the 30th Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit.
"We will skip, I will skip the arbitral ruling. It is not an issue here in the ASEAN," said Duterte on Thursday, April 27, during a chance interview with reporters in Malacañang.
Duterte, who is hosting the summit because of the Philippines' chairmanship of ASEAN this year, will make key decisions on the ASEAN chairman's statement and other outcome documents.
The Philippine President said he would rather keep discussions on the ruling between the Philippines and China.
He insisted it is a "non-issue" with other ASEAN countries even if there are 4 other countries with claims in the South China Sea that overlap with China's. These ASEAN countries are Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam.
"Arbitral [ruling], it's only between China and the Philippines so I’ll skip that...We will not talk about sovereignty of the islands there because that is not an issue of the ASEAN summit," he said.
Asked if China's leadership had anything to do with his decision, Duterte said no.
"No interference. Nobody tells me what to do, what to say," he said.
But Duterte spoke again of the seeming futility of trying to "force" the arbitral ruling on China, a growing military power, and definitely a giant compared to the Philippines' military.
"Before, nagsabi ang China, we will not honor. So bakit mo pilitin 'yang, 'o putang-ina, you honor'? Hanap ka lang ng gulo. Ngayon, preparado ba tayo manggulo?" he said.
(Before, China said, 'we will not honor.' So why will you force it, 'son of a bitch, you honor it? You're just looking for trouble. Now, are we prepared for trouble?)
No more challenges in high seas
Duterte would rather focus on completing the framework on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, one of the documents the Philippines hopes to finalize during its 2017 chairmanship.
The framework will be the foundation of a Code of Conduct that will lay down guidelines on how countries claiming parts of the sea, including China, will deal with the dispute.
"The Code of Conduct is a different story, it must be taken up," he said.
Asked if the Code of Conduct would just be a "press release" for China to use as "proof" that it is cooperating in disputes settlement, Duterte said ASEAN interests would still be protected by the document.
"At least, if there's a [code of] conduct and [China] will agree, so many things will be out, for example, challenges in the high seas and then the overflight that you have to identify yourself," said Duterte.
Just a week ago, on April 21, China challenged the party of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana as they made a routine visit to disputed Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
These challenges, which include a demand to flight passengers to identify themselves, is one way China asserts its claim in the disputed sea. – 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 email@example.com.