Palace: Don’t blame Duterte for Chinese sea reclamation
China’s aggressive island-building in the West Philippine Sea predated the term of President Rodrigo Duterte, Malacañang insisted on Saturday, as it disputed criticism that he had encouraged reclamation activities by not mentioning them in his statement as chair of this year’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said in a speech last week that China considered it a “green light” when Mr. Duterte left out the militarization of the South China Sea in his statement following last month’s Asean summit held in Manila.
But presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said Mr. Duterte was not responsible for the reclamation activities and should not be blamed for it.
“With all due respect to the Senior Associate Justice, Chinese island-building and military deployment activities on certain features in the West Philippine Sea have been ongoing for some years now,” Abella said.
Abella also said Mr. Duterte has been dealing with China on two tracks. One is by cultivating healthy economic, trade and investment ties with China, and the other, by trying to ensure that the country’s arbitral rights in the West Philippine Sea are not compromised, especially now with the activation of the bilateral consultation mechanism, he said.
The mechanism provides a way for the Philippines and China to manage their maritime disputes.
“The disputes in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea are not the sum total of our relations with China, but we are cognizant of the warmer relationships we have in the region,” Abella said.
Mr. Duterte said on Friday that he had asserted the Philippines’ ownership of certain areas in the South China Sea and told President Xi Jinping that he plans to drill for oil there.
But the Chinese leader threatened him with war and said they would talk about the international arbitral ruling that Manila won last year at a future date.
He said both leaders had a “frank discussion on possible oil explorations” in the sea region, with the Chinese leader adamantly insisting that Beijing would “vigorously contest” its historic claims to the region.
“Given this complexity both parties agreed to pursue a more peaceful resolution to the matter that satisfies both our sovereign and economic rights,” Abella said.
Mr. Duterte also touched on the same exchange with Xi during the maiden episode of his TV show that aired on Friday evening.
He said the arbitral tribunal ruling would not be set aside “because it will be there for all time and it will always bug China.”
He also said China is putting off discussing the matter now because there are many countries laying claim to the South China Sea./rga
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