‘No bargaining’: Philippines’ Duterte says will raise South China Sea issue with Beijing, vows not to deviate from Hague ruling
Duterte says his trip to China this week represents a turning point in bilateral ties and will insist on sovereignty of disputed islets
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday he would raise a controversial arbitral ruling on the South China Sea with China’s leaders, and vowed not to surrender any sovereignty or deviate from the July award by the tribunal in The Hague.
Duterte said his trip to China this week represented a turning point in bilateral ties, but he acknowledged there was some public concern about his rapid rapprochement moves and reassured Filipinos that would not impact on the country’s maritime sovereignty.
In comments that will not sit comfortably with the Chinese leadership, Duterte said the decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration would be talked about and the parameters of the award would be discussed, but there would be no “hard imposition” of it.
The ruling dealt a blow to China’s extensive claims in the South China Sea. Beijing has refused to recognise the case and has chided any country telling it to abide by the ruling.
“I will not bargain anywhere, we will continue to insist that is ours,” he told a news conference in his home city of Davao. “The international tribunal decision will be taken up.”
The unpredictable president’s moves to strongly engage China, just a few months after an arbitral award that sparked fears in the region of a backlash by Beijing in the South China Sea, mark a striking reversal in Philippine foreign policy since he took office on June 30.
“There will be no hard impositions. We will talk, we will maybe paraphrase everything in the judgment and set the limits of our territories, the special economic zones,” he said of meeting. “It will be no bargaining. It is ours and many of you are wanting to ask the question. No bargaining.”
Duterte goes to China on Tuesday with at least 200 members of the Philippine business elite to pave the way for what he calls a new commercial alliance. Among the areas expected to be prioritised are financing for Philippine businesses, farm exports, major infrastructure investments and tourism.
It comes amid a torrent of anti-American comments by Duterte that have cast a cloud over a long-standing relationship with the United States.
While he continues to chastise and hurl abuse at Washington for expressing concern about his bloody war on drugs, he insists his strategic gambit is about abiding by a constitution that enshrines an independent foreign policy.
He spoke of his intention to “intensify” trade ties and work closer with China, but would not avoid discussing what is a bone of contention between them.
“I think Duterte will definitely mention the South China Sea during his trip to China,” said Dai Fan, a Southeast Asia affairs expert from Jinan University in Guangzhou.“But Duterte attaches importance to Philippine-China relations and is seeking greater cooperation with China, and thus it’s very unlikely for him to slap Chinese leaders in the face when he’s in Beijing by raising the ruling and emphasising the maritime sovereignty issue.”
Song Junying, an expert on Asia Pacific studies from China Institute of International Studies, agreed domestic pressure would force Duterte to raise the issue but didn’t expect him to labour the point.
“It’s reasonable for Duterte to mention the ruling, because he has to, especially when facing huge pressure in the Philippines,” he said. “But his mentioning it would be more probably a posture, not a repeated discussion on the maritime sovereignty issue in a confrontational tone, which may greatly undermine the fragile trust between China and Philippine and directly affect the purpose of Duterte’s Beijing visit.”
Additional reporting by Kristin Huang