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Duterte: Not yet time to raise West Philippine Sea issue with China

Christina Mendez, Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
Duterte: Not yet time to raise West Philippine Sea issue with China
President Duterte leads the groundbreaking ceremony of the Two China Aid and Bridge Project in Intramuros, Manila yesterday. Among those with him are (from left) Public Works Secretary Mark Villar, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua.
KJ Rosales

MANILA, Philippines — It’s not yet time to discuss the country’s maritime dispute with China, President Duterte said yesterday as he stressed he would rather allow the Asian giant “sufficient period to sort things out” first.

He said he is counting on Beijing’s fairness and that Filipinos would eventually recognize China as a “good neighbor.”

Duterte has been drawing flak for cozying up to China despite the latter’s provocative activities in the West Philippine Sea including its building of island fortresses and harassment of Filipino fishermen.

He has also refused to pressure China into complying with a ruling of an international arbitral tribunal invalidating Beijing’s vast maritime claim and reaffirming Manila’s maritime entitlements.

“I’m sure that in the end, China will be fair and the equity will be distributed,” the President said in remarks at the Maestranza in Intramuros where he led the groundbreaking for the China-funded Binondo-Intramuros bridge yesterday. Another Chinese-funded bridge project, the Estrella-Pantaleon bridge, will connect Makati and Mandaluyong.

“I cannot talk about – well, elaborate these things now. They are in the blueprint. But in the days to come, we would realize that China after all is really a good neighbor,” he added.

“We have promised to deal with the problem from the President himself, President Xi of the People’s Republic of China, that we will discuss this at some other time, as China has to deal with individually bilateral relations and issues,” he said.

Duterte’s pronouncement came on the heels of a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showing eight of 10 Filipinos expressing belief the government should not just let China expand its presence in the West Philippine Sea.

In his remarks, Duterte said the two countries are talking about a “concerted effort” to “develop” but did not elaborate. The President previously said he was open to a joint exploration with China in the South China Sea, even suggesting that the two countries adopt a “60-40” sharing deal.

China claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.

China has built structures, including military facilities on Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Panganiban (Mischief), Zamora (Subi), Burgos (Gaven), Kennan (Hughes), Mabini (Johnson South) and Calderon (Cuarteron) Reefs, areas off the province of Palawan.

The President has repeatedly warned that insisting on the Philippines’ maritime claims would create “trouble” and that a war with China would only result in a “massacre” of Filipino soldiers.

His officials have denied he has abandoned the Philippines’ claims, saying the President is just pursuing non-contentious aspects of Manila’s relationship with Beijing such as economic cooperation. – With Evelyn Macairan   

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SOCIAL WEATHER STATIONS

SOUTH CHINA SEA

WEST PHILIPPINE SEA

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