Duterte favors friendlier ties, 2-way talks with China
DAVAO—Presumptive President-elect Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday said he wanted to cultivate friendly relations with China even as he confirmed he was open to direct talks over a territorial row that had badly damaged bilateral ties.
China’s Ambassador to Manila Zhao Jianhua was among the first three foreign envoys met with today, after the May 9 election which he handily won.
“Well, the ties have never been cold. But I would rather be friendly with everybody,” Duterte told reporters in this city who asked if he wanted the ties with China to be closer than under President Aquino.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even the waters approaching the coast of the Philippines, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian nations.
To enforce its claims, China has in recent years built artificial islands on reefs, some topped with military-capable airstrips.
In 2012, China took control of Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing area within the Philippines’ economic exclusive zone.
The Aquino administration responded by signing a new defense pact with the United States and filing a legal challenge with a United Nations tribunal asking it to rule on Chinese claims to most of the sea.
It also raised the issue at multilateral events, such as summits of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
China reacted furiously to Mr. Aquino’s strategy, demanding the Philippines negotiate directly with it but also insisting that it would never give up any of the territory.
Mr. Aquino refused to hold direct talks, fearing the better resourced and more powerful Chinese would have the advantage.
He said there was no point in talking with China if it insisted that there was nothing to negotiate.
Duterte, who will be sworn into office on June 30, said he planned to continue raising the issue at multilateral environments.
But he also repeated a campaign pledge to hold direct talks with China, if other negotiations failed.
“If the ship of negotiation is in still waters and there’s no wind to push the sail, I might just decide to talk bilaterally with China,” Duterte said.
The longtime Davao City mayor held closed-door meetings with the ambassadors of China, Japan and Israel in his hometown on Monday.
It was not known if the disputed territories were among the subjects of discussion. With reports from AFP; Allan Nawal, Karlos Manlupig and Dennis Santos, Inquirer Mindanao
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