By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
President Duterte revealed that Chinese President Xi Jinping was quite surprised when he expressed last week his plan to raise the issue on the maritime dispute over the South China Sea during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit.
Duterte, in his arrival speech at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Sunday before dawn, however said that Xi understood where he was coming from.
“He [Xi] was quite surprised about my coming in very strong of my statement here about the conduct of the sea,” Duterte said.
The Chief Executive said that he explained to Xi that he was bringing up the issue during their bilateral talks in Da Nang, Vietnam as Chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
“I said, ‘I am not raising any sovereign issue. Do not worry.’ But as Chairman, I made it a tunnel for the communications to be active,” Duterte said.
“I had to do it because the Philippines chairs the ASEAN now. I cannot escape that from my duty so I have every right to ask him. But I explained it to him in a very nice way,” he added.
Xi also assured Duterte that all countries have the rights of the safe passage in the disputed South China Sea.
“He assured us again, ‘Do not worry. You have all the rights of the safe passage.’ And that will also be applicable to all countries,” Duterte said, recalling his conversation with Xi.
Duterte, before leaving for Vietnam last week, said he would ask Xi if other countries can have free, “unbridled, undisturbed, unmolested” passage in the disputed waters following China’s reclamation activities.
PH claim on WPS
Meanwhile, Duterte reiterated that there will come a time that he will talk with Xi about the country’s claim of sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea.
“We are almost fined-tuned to the realities of the moment. But there will always be a time, I said, that we have to talk about this. The Philippines and China minus everybody,” Duterte said.
Duterte also assured that the government is protecting the country’s rights over the disputed waters while building a good relationship with the Asian giant.
“We never surrendered anything. I do not want to talk about this for the moment. It is not time for aggression, it is not time for violence,” he said.
Duterte said that it would have been much easier if he is only dealing with China, but noted the other claimants.
“And that is why the truth is, if I could only confront China, or if it is China alone, then there’s no problem. But I said there are contesting countries which have overlapping jurisdictions. And if I engage China now, I will have to engage the five others,” he said.
Other claimants to the South China Sea are Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
Duterte earlier expressed hope that China would honor its word on the South China Sea as the geopolitics in Asia depends on the disputed waters.
“Sabi niya na (He said), ‘We will not.’ And with this assurance he gave to the Foreign Secretary na hindi niya galawin (that he will not touch the South China Sea). He will not build something on the Scarborough Shoal,” Duterte said, referring to the promise of Xi.
Malacañang also earlier said that Duterte has opted to maintain a good relationship with China and to rely on good faith.
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