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Duterte finds no urgency in South China Sea row

"We need not go to war for that it’s not good to add something which is already a very high tension existing in Asia itself," President Rodrigo Duterte said. 

MANILA, Philippines — While vowing that the government will push for a peaceful resolution, President Rodrigo Duterte is not in a hurry in managing the longstanding maritime dispute with China.

Speaking before the ASEAN High Level Forum on Thursday, the president said that what his administration did was the "correct step" in its friendlier dealings with China.

"The South China Sea is one (problem) but we are not in a hurry and as a matter of fact, what we did was really the correct step and was to avoid confrontational talks with almost all of the parties concerned," Duterte said in his speech.

Duterte added that he was in favor of sharing resources in the South China Sea despite an international tribunal ruling in favor of the Philippines' jurisdictional claims. His explanation for possible joint exploration hinted at a willingness to open exclusive economic zones to foreign parties.

"There’s no such thing as you can claim international waters as your own. The economic zones provided are good and are [of a] consensus, and concessions that are part of the respect for each other’s interest," Duterte said.

READ: South China Sea code framework skips dispute settlement | China sets conditions for talks on South China Sea code

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Breaking away from the previous administration's way of handling the maritime dispute, the Duterte administration has been engaging in direct talks with Beijing.

In 2014, the Philippines, under the Aquino administration, filed an arbitration against China's nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea before the international tribunal under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In 2016, the tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines, invalidating China's excessive claims over the disputed waters.

Since the ruling, Beijing has nearly completed installing military facilities on its artificial islands in the South China Sea. The Asian giant has shown no signs of slowing down its construction within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone despite negotiations with the Duterte-led government.

READ: As it engages Duterte, China keeps building in South China Sea

Duterte, however, claimed that Beijing "has stood part on its decision."

"We need not go to war for that it’s not good to add something which is already a very high tension existing in Asia itself," he said.

Observers have criticized Manila's current policy toward Beijing as simplistic and defeatist.

Malacca Strait

The president added that the ASEAN should instead focus on fighting transnational crime, particularly in the Malacca Strait.

The Malacca Strait is a narrow, 990-kilometer stretch of water between the Malay Peninsula and the Sumatra Island of Indonesia.

"The Malaccas used to be historically a supply route and a shipping lane that was good for everybody. Of late, terrorism has entered the picture and a lot of hijackings and killing of people and capturing hostages for ransom," Duterte said.

Duterte said that he will meet with leaders of Indonesia and Malaysia to jointly address the problem in the Malacca Strait.

"Otherwise, that part of sea trade from Australia going up north and Malaysia itself, Indonesia and the Philippines will continue to suffer the degradations of our trade," the president said.

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