MB: Not now, says President Duterte

President Duterte used two recent occasions to clarify any possible misunderstanding of the Philippines’ relations with China, our big neighbor to the northwest.

We may have won our case in the Arbitral Court in the Hague, which rejected China’s claim to most of the South China Sea, the President told Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua in Malacanang, but it is more important now to build on the friendly relations between the two nations. The ambassador turned over 50 portable radios to Communications Secretary Martin Andanar under a communications agreement drawn up last year.

Earlier, in a meeting with Filipino-Chinese businessmen in Davao City, the President said it was pointless to pursue the Philippines’ territorial claims in the South China Sea at this time. War is out of the question, he said. There may be a time later when the Philippines will raise the issue of the Arbitral Court’s judgment “but not now.”

The President made this stand clear following China’s reaction to a statement of Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. that foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had expressed grave concern about China’s reported “militarization” of the South China Sea. A Chinese trade official had subsequently cancelled a trip to Manila.

President Duterte is due to attend the “One Belt, One Road” summit in Beijing this May. He will be among the leaders of several nations to advance an economic program which seeks to revitalize the ancient Silk Road which once connected China with Asia in the east and Europe in the west. In Beijing, the President will meet again with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

With the Yasay-ASEAN issue out of the way, we look forward to more fruitful economic ties with China as well as with our Southeast Asian neighbors. As the President pointed out, there may be a time later in his term to raise the Arbitral Court decision but now, it would be more fruitful to push for mutually beneficial efforts in trade and commerce.

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