Duterte meeting Xi amid pressure to confront China over sea claims
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte will visit Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping next week to raise their conflicting claims to the South China Sea, as the Filipino leader faces pressure at home to confront Beijing.
While the President has embraced China and had largely set aside a once-tense standoff over the resource-rich waterway, a series of confrontations have stoked domestic discontent.
The President heads to China on Aug. 28 and is due to return to the Philippines on Sept. 2, his spokesperson, Salvador Panelo, told journalists on Tuesday.
Beijing claims most of the South China Sea, including waters close to Philippine shores, and has ignored a 2016 international tribunal ruling that declared its assertion as without basis.
Earlier this month, the President mentioned the trip, where he said he intended to finally discuss the ruling with Xi.
“I have about two more years, plus months left [in office]. It’s about time that we start talking,” tje said at the time.
He also said he would press Beijing to conclude long-running talks with neighboring countries, that also have claims to the disputed sea, on a code of conduct or rules for avoiding accidental clashes.
The visit marks a turnaround for the President, who had revived once-icy diplomatic ties with Beijing after being elected in 2016 when he set aside the maritime ruling in favor of wooing Chinese aid, trade and investment.
He enjoys firm popular backing, but he has faced criticism at home over his stance that confronting China is futile and will only lead to an unwinnable war.
The issue has flared up since a Chinese fishing trawler hit and sank a Filipino boat in the South China Sea in June, sparking a string of small street protests and criticism from opposition politicians and former officials.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also complained earlier this month about repeated unauthorized passage by Chinese warships through Philippine territorial waters between February and July.
Panelo, the presidential spokesperson, said on Tuesday that the President had ordered all foreign vessels passing through Philippine waters to seek Manila’s advance approval.
This is “to avoid misunderstanding in the future,” Panelo said, adding this was in response to the “repeated passing through without our being notified by some foreign vessels well, particularly Chinese warships.”
“Either we get a compliance in a friendly manner or we enforce it in an unfriendly manner,” he said.
Two of the Pfs’s allies in the Senate expressed support for his decision on Wednesday.
“Way to go! The President deserves everybody’s support in regard to this guidance,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said in a text message to reporters.
“The message is unequivocal and clear for all the concerned agencies of [the] government to do what is necessary to deal with any situation relative to the issue,” said Lacson, chair of the Senate national defense and security committee.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said the presidential directive was a step in the right direction for the Philippines to earn the respect of other nations.
“As a sovereign nation, we should be treated and respected as one,” Zubiri said.
“I believe in the golden rule of treating others as how you want to be treated. So these nations that want their borders and rules respected should do the same for us,” he said. —REPORTS FROM AFP AND MARLON RAMOS
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