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Manila will not raise sea row with China at ASEAN meeting

President Rodrigo R. Duterte delivers an intense speech during the 115th Police Service Anniversary celebration at Camp Crame on August 17. PPD/King Rodriguez

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he will not raise long-simmering maritime disputes with China at a meeting of Southeast Asian nations in Laos next month, preferring to talk quietly with Chinese officials.

"I will only bring the issue when we are together face to face," he told reporters late Wednesday night. "Because if you quarrel with them now and you claim sovereignty, make noise here and there, they might not just even want to talk."

In July, a Hague-based arbitration tribunal ruled heavily in the Philippines' favor in a case challenging China's claims and aggressive actions in the South China Sea. China ignored the decision and continued to block Filipino fishermen from a disputed shoal and build new islands.

The arbitration case was filed by Duterte's predecessor. Duterte has been lukewarm in his support for the action and has said he was adopting "a softer approach" to resolving the disputes.

He said Wednesday that his special envoy to China, former President Fidel Ramos, is paving the way for possible talks with China.

"Let us create an environment where we can sit down, talk directly, and that is the time when I would say, we proceed from here," he said.

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Ramos flew to Hong Kong last week to meet the Chinese legislature's foreign affairs chief, Fu Ying, and a leading government-backed scholar on the dispute, and they agreed on the need to reduce tensions through talks.

China welcomed him to visit Beijing for discussions, but the tribunal ruling was not directly discussed, Ramos told reporters. He gave no indication of when any talks might be held.

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