Duterte ‘comfortable’ in criticizing China now due to ‘closer ties’ — Cayetano
President Rodrigo Duterte’s rare rebuke of China over its aggressiveness in the South China Sea showed that he was “comfortable enough” to do this as the two countries now have “closer ties,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said.
“I interpret it as even a closer relationship because the closer you are, the more you can tell each other your feelings,” the top diplomat said at the sidelines of a migration forum in Manila on Wednesday evening.
On Tuesday, Duterte, who earlier refused to criticize China as he wanted to nurture closer ties, said he hoped China would “temper” its behavior in the South China Sea and its claim to airspace above its fortified islands was “wrong.”
“You cannot create an island, it’s man-made , and you say that the air above these artificial islands is yours. That is wrong because those waters are what we consider international sea,” he said.
Duterte was reacting to a media report that showed China’s aggressive radio warning to a Philippine military aircraft flying above the disputed waters.
Interestingly, the report also showed China’s radio warning to the US Navy, which appeared to be more polite compared to the Philippines.
Duterte has been criticized for playing down the sea dispute with China and setting aside the arbitration victory in exchange of economic investments and friendly ties with the regional superpower.
Cayetano also played down Duterte’s rare public criticism, saying it only signified that the President feels “comfortable enough” to communicate his thoughts.
“In the same manner, if there are things that offend feelings of our Chinese counterparts, whether it’s in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in the Communist Party, PLA, and they can speak openly, and we will react,” Cayetano said.
He said he does not see any “weakening” ties between the two countries because of the remark, adding that he expects “warmer relations.”
Cayetano also said they have briefed the President that the radio warnings were “routine.”
“I was with the Defense Secretary and the NSA Secretary, then we went to the President this afternoon and we told him, ‘Sir this is routine.’ We continue to tell anyone who goes into our waters or fly over that you are in the Philippine territory,” Cayetano said.
“But the President gave us instructions, regardless if it’s routine, regardless of good intentions, that’s not how friends treat each other, so he asked me, ‘Please talk to your counterparts’,” thre Foreign Affairs chief said.
“We’ve worked out many things in the past. He’s confident we can work this out,” he added. /vvp
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