Rodrigo Duterte
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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivers a speech in Quezon City, east of Manila, in July. Photo: EPA-EFE

Rodrigo Duterte hints he will cancel talks with Xi Jinping if barred from raising South China Sea ruling

  • Philippine president, just ahead of his fifth trip to China, says he will discuss 2016 tribunal victory ‘whether you like it or not’
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte hinted on Wednesday that he would rather cancel next week's talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping if he is barred from raising the country’s arbitral victory in the South China Sea dispute.

Speaking during the inauguration of a solar power plant in Romblon province in central Philippines, Duterte said: “They said it won’t be talked about. I said no. If I’m not allowed as a president of a sovereign nation to talk whatever I want to talk about, then let us not rather talk altogether.”

“Never mind,” he added. “Do not control my mouth because that is a gift from God.”

The president did not specify who “they” referred to. He is expected to make his fifth visit to China on August 28.

A copy of Duterte’s speech was obtained by the South China Morning Post late Wednesday evening.

In his speech, the president said, seemingly addressing someone in the Chinese government: “So whether you like it or not, will it make you happy or not, angry or otherwise, I’m sorry.”

“But we have to talk the arbitral ruling, then what we get if there is a start in the exploration and in the extraction of whatever worth there is in the bowels of the earth,” he added, referring to China’s offer to do a joint venture in the exploration and extraction of oil and gas deposits in the part of the South China Sea within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

China had offered to do a 60-40 sharing in the joint venture but neither country has explained whether this refers to ownership, costs or profits.

Explained: South China Sea dispute

“The proposal of 60-40 in our favour would be a good start,” Duterte said in his speech, though he did not clarify what the numbers referred to.

“I hope that it would graduate into something like towards how do we solve the arbitral ruling peacefully.”

He also said that “any other adventures or expeditions in the marine oceans of our exclusive zones, economic zones will have a direct bearing on that arbitral ruling. I won’t agree to only a ‘thank you’ agreement [without the Philippines getting anything out of it]. But I also won’t get into a fight because of it.”

Manila and Beijing have overlapping claims in the South China Sea. In 2016, an arbitral tribunal in The Hague rejected Beijing’s territorial claims in the area, ruling that it ran counter to principles of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which China is also a signatory.

It also ruled that China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights by interfering with its fishing and petroleum exploration and constructing artificial islands in its EEZ. China has refused to recognise the ruling.

Duterte changed his tune about the arbitral ruling only this month. He previously said enforcing the ruling would result in war and he preferred diplomatic negotiations.

On August 6, however, his spokesman Salvador Panelo quoted him as saying that “the time has come” to raise the ruling.

When Xi meets Duterte: is the China-Philippines honeymoon over?

Duterte's statements came after China urged Manila to ban all online gambling. The Philippine government was looking to collect at least 22 billion pesos (US$420 million) in income taxes yearly from online gambling workers coming mainly from China.

This is on top of the expected eight billion pesos expected to be collected this year from the online gaming companies.

China recently showed its displeasure over moves by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, Manila's state gaming regulator, to confine mainlanders to “hubs”, ostensibly to protect them.

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