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Palace defends Duterte's China policy

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a signing ceremony in Beijing, China, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016. AP/Ng Han Guan, Pool

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang insisted that President Rodrigo Duterte's policy on handling the South China Sea dispute with China has achieved substantive progress.

This statement was made following Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio's comment that the Philippines is not doing enough to protect its sovereignty in the disputed South China Sea or West Philippine Sea.

Carpio also warned that the Philippines may be in danger of being made to follow the foreign policy of China.

RELATED: Duterte hits Carpio for pushing claim in South China Sea

Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella claimed on Tuesday that the administration's current policy toward China has reduced tensions in the South China Sea and has improved economic cooperation between Manila and Beijing.

"Confrontation does not serve the interest of our country and that is why we are committed to a process of engagement and negotiation that will ensure that our rights are respected and protected well into the future," Abella said at a televised media briefing.

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The Palace official said the president respects the comment of Carpio on the issue.

"The president has respect for Justice Carpio and he can assure the justice and the people of the Philippines that the policies of this administration are not only directed at protecting the sovereignty of the republic. They are also directed at ensuring that our nation and our region remain conflict-free," Abella said.

On July 2016, an international arbitral tribunal issued a ruling invalidating China's excessive claims in the contested waters.

Duterte's approach toward China in his first year as president has been swinging from hard line in suddenly ordering troops to shore up Philippine-controlled islands to highly cordial in choosing to set aside the arbitral ruling.

"There are clearly blatant gaps here," said international affairs analyst Richard Heydarian in March. He noted a possible "system dissonance that is creating unnecessary confusion about our foreign policy."

The Duterte administration, however, is not pursuing the arbitral award but has instead started bilateral consultations with China over the South China Sea.

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