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Duterte to press China on sea Code of Conduct

President Duterte talks with Vietnam President Tran Dai Quang during a bilateral meeting at the Da Nang Convention Center, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Summit yesterday. Vietnam is also locked in a maritime dispute with China. AFP

DA NANG — President Duterte intends to press China to ratify the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea as he questioned Beijing’s moves to fortify disputed islands in the contested area.

Duterte said he would push the issue when he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a bilateral meeting here tomorrow.

“China must come up with the Code of Conduct,” Duterte said in a press briefing after meeting with the Filipino community here yesterday.

Duterte had to push back his return flight to Manila by about two hours to be able to meet with Xi on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in this Vietnamese city. 

He stressed that he had developed good relations with China and he wanted to nurture this.

“I do not want to lose the friendship of China,” he said.

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But being this year’s chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Duterte said he must put forward the interests of the claimant countries, which include Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei Darrusalam.

He said it was China who created the “ruckus” when it started putting arms around the islands.

“It is not wrong for me to tell China that you have already placed heavy artillery there. It puts us worried and wary because we are also using the passage,” the President added. 

“We are friends but what is the role here of everybody...I am chair of ASEAN and I have to carry the voice of the ASEAN. I have to tell the truth that everybody is worried,” Duterte said.

He mentioned that during his meeting with Xi, he will have “to ask questions and forward the ASEAN.”

Rody told: Assert UN tribunal ruling

Meanwhile, a former Marine captain-turned congressman is urging Duterte to assert the ruling of the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration favoring the Philippines in its territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea.

Gary Alejano of party-list Magdalo made the appeal a day after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana revealed that the President ordered a halt to a construction project on a sandbar near the Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island after China protested.

“I hope that the administration would now realize the importance and urgency of asserting the favorable ruling of the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration issued in July 2016. There could not be any more proper time to stress it than now. We do not want to waste time that we could use to peacefully strengthen our claims,” Alejano said.

He said China had no basis to protest the construction work on one of the sandbars.

“The Philippines did not violate the Declaration of Conduct. The planned construction in Sandy Cay was not a new occupation by the Philippines. In fact, the sand bars have traditionally been under effective control of the Philippine troops. Further, the sand bars are subject to regular patrols and visitations by the Philippine troops and our own fishermen,” he said.

He noted that the Duterte government halts its activities at the slightest protest from Beijing.

“Meanwhile, Chinese forces, military and coast guard, are illegally entering our exclusive economic zone (EEZ), yet our foreign affairs secretary and the President could only respond that we assume good faith in their actions. The administration has been downplaying the situation in the West Philippine Sea while China continues to push us into the corner,” he said.

Alejano and his party-list group have been calling attention to Chinese “encroachments” in the country’s EEZ.

Not too long ago, the former Marine officer exposed the alleged presence of Chinese ships near one of the sandbars of Pag-asa.

A few days later, Philippine and Chinese officials acknowledged that one ship of China passed by the area. – With Jess Diaz

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