Duterte, Xi stick to opposing stances on arbitral ruling
Chinese President Xi Jinping welcomes Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte at the Diaoyutai State Guest House in Beijing.
(Malacañang photos)

Duterte, Xi stick to opposing stances on arbitral ruling

Alexis Romero (Philstar.com) - August 30, 2019 - 8:19am

BEIJING — The much anticipated bilateral meeting between President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping last Thursday saw the two leaders reiterating their respective positions on the West Philippine Sea row and agreeing that the dispute does not define the relationship between the two countries.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte was "steadfast" in raising concerns related to the Philippines' claim in the West Philippine Sea, including the 2016 arbitral ruling that voided Beijing's maritime claim and affirmed Manila's rights over its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Duterte described the arbitral award issued by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration as "final, binding and not subject to appeal."

But China, which claims virtually the entire 3.5-million-square-kilometer South China Sea, was firm in its refusal to recognize the ruling. 

"President Xi reiterated his government’s position of not recognizing the arbitral ruling as well as not budging from its position," Panelo said in a statement issued Friday. 

RELATED: Experts temper expectations on Duterte-Xi meet

Centuries-old friendship, benefits

Despite their opposing views on the longstanding dispute, the two leaders said the issue should not affect the friendship between their countries.

They also expressed belief that their friendship is not anchored on their views on the maritime row but on their "centuries old friendship" and the "benefits" to be gained from their cooperation.

"Both President Duterte and President Xi agreed that while their variant positions will have to remain, their differences however need not derail nor diminish the amity between the two countries. They shared the view that the contentious issue is not the sum total of the Philippines-Chinese bilateral relationship," Panelo said.  

"Both leaders agreed to work together, on the basis of mutual trust and good faith, to manage the South China Sea issue, and to continue to dialogue peacefully in resolving the conflict," he agreed. 

Despite China's hardline stance on the arbitral ruling, Duterte said the bilateral meeting "went very well." 

Joint development 

Panelo said Duterte had also raised the possible joint exploration of resources between the Philippines and China in the West Philippine Sea, an undertaking that officials said could ensure Manila's energy security. 

"President Xi for his part said that the steering committee created for that purpose should prepare a substantive program on the matter," Panelo said. 

Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana previously said Duterte is "moving with a sense of urgency" with regard to the proposed joint development, noting that the Malampaya gas field in Palawan is running dry. The gas field supplies power to a huge part of Luzon including Metro Manila. 

The Philippines and China signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on cooperation in oil and gas development last November. The two countries are set to discuss concrete details as well as the composition of the steering committee and working group that will talk about ways to operationalize the MOU. Duterte has said he is open to a 60-40 sharing scheme in favor of the Philippines. 

Recto Bank incident

The sinking of a Filipino boat near Recto Bank was also discussed during the meeting, which was held a day after the owner of the Chinese ship that hit the boat apologized for the incident. 

"He (Duterte) expressed appreciation of China’s readiness to provide compensation to our fishermen who almost lost their lives," Panelo said. 

Sta. Romana has said that the apology did not remove responsibility for the abandonment of the 22 Filipino fishermen who were afloat for three hours before they were rescued by another ship. 

Panelo said Duterte and Xi had also stressed the importance of self-restraint and respect for freedom of navigation in — and overflight above — the South China Sea. His statement did not say if the two leaders talked about the unannounced entry of Chinese ships in Philippine waters. 

Duterte also talked about the need to craft the long-delayed Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, saying it would contribute in the resolution of numerous conflicts in the disputed areas.

"Chinese President Xi agreed with President Duterte that there is a need for the formulation of the Code of Conduct and it should be crafted within the last remaining years of (President Duterte)," Panelo said. 

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China vowed to come up with a binding code of conduct in 2002. 

The bilateral meeting was held at the Diaoyutai State Guest House here and was finished in less than an hour. 

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