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Duterte: Philippines, China can have military exercises in Sulu Sea

In this October 16, 2016 photo, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands after a signing ceremony in Beijing, China. On Labor Day, Duterte said that he is open to have joint military exercises with China. AP/Ng Han Guan, Pool
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte told reporters on Monday that he is open to joint military exercises with China.
 
"Yes, I said I agree. We can have joint exercises here in Mindanao, maybe in the Sulu Sea," Duterte said after visiting a warship of the People's Liberation Army Navy docked in Davao City for a port visit. 
 
Russia, which has also sent ships on goodwill visits to the Philippines, has also hinted at holding training exercises with the Philippines.
 
In contrast, the annual Balikatan military exercises between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the US military have been scaled back this year. The exercises will focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster response and on counter-terrorism, the US Embassy in Manila announced last month.
 
Duterte also said that the docking of two Chinese warships and a support vessel in Sasa Wharf  is part of confidence-building and goodwill.
 
"To show that we are friends. That's why I welcome them here," Duterte, who has been building up relations with China and Russia as part of an independent foreign policy, said.
 
On Sunday, the three Chinese ships docked at Sasa Wharf in Davao City as part of  a goodwill cruise to  Association of Southeast Asian Nations member-states. The ships will leave on Tuesday.
 
The vessels include the guided missile destroyer Chang Chun (DDG150), the guided missile cruiser Jin Zhou (FFG 532) and Chao Hu (890), a replenishment ship.
 
 
Duterte visited the ships after the Labor Day celebrations in Davao and said that he was the one who asked to see the ships.
 
Asked if the visit of the Chinese ships "cements" the president's belief that the AFP cannot match China's military,  Duterte instead said that any kind of violence "would not be good."
 
"Any violence now would result only with both sides losing. There is no winner, actually," Duterte said.
 
In March, Duterte said that the Philippines will lose all military and police personnel if the country tries to engage China in response to reports that the country will be installing a radar station in Panatag, also known as Scarborough, Shoal.
 
"We cannot stop China from doing its thing. Even the Americans were not able to stop them," Duterte said during a press conference at the Davao International Airport before leaving for a two-day official visit in Myanmar.
 
 
Duterte however asked the Chinese "not to do anything" to the Philippine Coast Guard as it patrols the country's maritime waters.
 
"Kasi you (China) claim to own it, I claim it to be mine. In the meantime, just keep open at ’wag mong galawin ’yung mga Coast Guard ko," Duterte said.
 
Advocates of taking a harder stance on China over disputes in parts of the South China Sea within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone have said that the country can use international pressure and international law to assert its claim.
 
Those advocates, including Senior Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, have said that the Philippines can bring up a 2016 arbitral tribunal decision finding China' s nine-dash-line claim invalid without going to war.
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