By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
President Duterte reiterated that the Philippines is not beholden to any country and that it will put the Philippines’ best interest first before anything else.
The opportunity for Duterte to raise the issue of the disputed South China Sea may surface as he is set to meet with two Chinese leaders, President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, within one week.
Duterte will have a bilateral meeting with Xi during the 2017 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Da Nang, Vietnam, while he will meet with Li during the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Manila next week.
According to Duterte, he is still for the peaceful resolution of the maritime dispute but said that the country is not beholden to anyone.
“Look, we are all for peaceful negotiations. It’s always a mouthful for leaders saying rule-based and the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) prescribes a peaceful resolution of conflicts of nations,” Duterte said when asked by a member of the Chinese media.
“We will stick to that. We are friends with China. May utang na loob tayo (We owe China),” he added.
Duterte was referring to China’s help during the height of the Filipino troops’ battle against the terrorists in Marawi City. However, he said he would like to make clear China’s intention.
“At one moment in our life or the lives of the Filipinos, they were there to give us the arms when we had none and we were fighting it out in Marawi,” he said.
“Nagpapasalamat ako sa inyo (I am thankful to China). I do not deny that. But let us be clear on what we intend to do here because eventually it will affect the entire Philippine archipelago,” he added.
According to Duterte, China should not use its assistance as a bargaining chip.
“These are the things that we cannot forget. But these things should not be used as, not really a pawn, but as bargaining chips on what is the greater interest of Southeast Asia and more particularly, the higher interest of our country,” he said.
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