Duterte to talk with China on sea dispute if…

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Incoming president Rodrigo Duterte said yesterday he would hold bilateral talks with China on the West Philippine Sea dispute if current efforts to resolve the issue remain stagnant in the first two years of his administration.

“We are allied with western powers. We will continue with the popular notion of the countries affected by occupation of China in Scarborough Shoal... That is the consensus. I have no problem with that,” Duterte said in a press conference Saturday night.

“But if the negotiation is not moving or there is no wind to force the sail, if it is still stalemate, after two years, and China says do you want to talk bilateral, then I’ll say yes.

 “If we would be able to produce results by the third year, why should I be in a hurry?” 

Duterte said he would fight for the country’s territorial rights in case bilateral talks are held.

 “This is the predicate when I talk to them. The territory you are talking is ours. It’s within our EEZ (exclusive economic zone). It’s not a matter of territorial interest but it’s ours under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” he said.  

 “If you put something there that will impede, obstruct the exercise of our economic interest and activity, you are violating the international law,” he added.

 Duterte’s stance is a departure from the Aquino administration’s policy of settling the territorial row only through the international arbitral tribunal.

 China claims virtually the entire South China Sea, a busy sea lane where about $5 trillion worth of trade passes through every year. The Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan have overlapping claims in the resource-rich area.

China said it has undisputable sovereignty over the contested areas but is willing to hold bilateral negotiations with other claimants. The Philippines and other countries, however, believe territorial claims should be consistent with international law.

In 2013, the Philippines challenged the legality of China’s territorial claim before the international arbitral tribunal, calling it “exaggerated” and “excessive.” China, however, refused to answer the complaint.  

Last October, the Philippines won the first round of its legal battle with China after an arbitration court in The Hague ruled that it has jurisdiction over the case. The next hearings will dwell on the merits of the Philippines’ case.


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