Duterte's UN speech opens more discussions with South China Sea stakeholders
President Rodrigo Duterte virtually addresses the general debate of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, on September 22, 2020, in New York.
Presidential Communications Operations Office
Duterte's UN speech opens more discussions with South China Sea stakeholders
Alexis Romero (Philstar.com) - September 30, 2020 - 6:20pm

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte's speech before the United Nations General Assembly has opened more discussions with all stakeholders of the South China Sea row, an official said Wednesday.

Presidential assistant for foreign affairs and protocol chief Robert Borje said Duterte was "signaling that the doors of engagement (are) becoming wider now, not just with China but with other stakeholders in the South China Sea."

"The intended outcome of the president's speech is to signal the call for deeper engagement and broader engagement by the Philippines with all the partners around the world on several key points. It's important to note that the South China Sea issue is one of them but also the issue of geopolitical developments in Asia-Pacific and other parts of the world," Borje told CNN Philippines.

"Following the statement of the president, he is already signaling the opening of the doors for wider and more constructive engagements with all the stakeholders involved in the situation in the South China Sea," he added.

In 2016, an arbitral court based in Hague declared that China's maritime claim in the resource-rich South China Sea has no legal basis and affirmed the Philippines' sovereign rights over its exclusive economic zone. China, which claims about 90 percent of the busy sealane, has refused to recognize the ruling.

Late last month, Duterte, who has been accused of being too soft on the maritime dispute, said the Philippines would not allow efforts to undermine the arbitral ruling, saying it is "beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon." The address drew praise even from administration critics including former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario, who has been urging the president to rally international support to enforce the arbitral decision.

Asked whether the government would heed del Rosario's appeal, Borje replied: "Framing it that way, 'heeding the call' assumes there's only one stakeholder that's involved in this."

"The fact of the matter is, the government is continuously involved in stakeholder coordination and consultation within the government of the Philippines already," he added.

Reacting to Duterte's address, Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian claimed last week that Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping have agreed to set aside the dispute and to discuss the matter through bilateral consultations. Borje said Duterte has been consistent on his stand about the maritime dispute.

"During the many conversations of the president with President Xi Jinping, there have been references to this. But the public and the entire world is aware that the President has also said that at the right time, he would be able to invoke the arbitral ruling and the decision," he said.  

"That was said and that was invoked at the UN General Assembly and on both counts, I think, the president was true to his word when he spoke with President Xi Jinping and he was also true to his word when he told the Philippines, basically, us, that he will raise the arbitral decision at the right time."

Borje said Dutere had made it clear that the Philippines does push for the arbitral decision during his many engagements with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

"It is at this time, specifically, at the United Nations General Assembly, that this becomes clear because it is the first time that the president spoke at the General Assembly. But on many other occasions, especially at ASEAN, the president has been very firm, very clear, and very consistent with his stand," he added.

Duterte, Borje said, is "actually laying down the platform for the Philippines' continuous engagement with the United Nations." He said Duterte was emphasizing that the Philippines is a "responsible member of the international community willing to work with anyone and everyone in order to achieve collective goals."

"But I think what is encouraging is (that) it opened discussions on multilateral diplomacy and the role of the Philippines, and that the Philippines is not just on the sidelines. The Philippines has this role, it doesn't simply have to always agree with what's the general sentiment in a general debate," he said.

"It can actually have principled decisions and it can have fiscalizing roles, speaking on the issues of, for example, the South China Sea, the situation of migrant workers especially the Rohingyas, the issue on climate change and calling on developed nations to do their part as well. These are important positions that signal what the Philippines can be doing in the largest platform of multilateral diplomacy." 

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