Duterte, Trump hit South China Sea 'militarization'

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and US President Donald Trump criticized the "militarization" of the disputed South China Sea as the two parties held their first bilateral meeting.

"Both sides reiterated their commitment to uphold their principles including the freedom of navigation and overflight, and the exercise of self-restraint," said a joint statement by the Philippines and the US.

The two leaders also "stressed the importance of peacefully resolving disputes in the South China Sea, in accordance with international law, as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention." 

"They further underscored the need to continue pursuing confidence-building measures to increase mutual trust and confidence, and to refrain from actions that would escalate tensions, including militarization," the joint statement added.

This joint statement is expected to draw flak from China, which detests so-called US interference in the South China Sea dispute.

The Philippines and the US made these remarks as China is slammed for island building activities to assert de facto control over the South China Sea.  

During the ASEAN Summit, the 10-member regional bloc and China tackled the South China Sea dispute, and agreed to start talks on a Code of Conduct (COC) in the disputed waters. 

In a draft statement for the ASEAN-China Summit, both parties vowed as well to not take the "calmer" situation in the South China Sea "for granted."

In July 2016, Manila won a historic case against Beijing over the South China Sea, but Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has chosen to downplay this legal victory for the sake of better ties with China. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.