PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said he would not raise a 2016 international tribunal ruling that shot down China’s expansive claims on South China Sea, as the Philippines hosts regional leaders this week.
In a news conference in Malacañang, Duterte stressed that Manila’s arbitration victory against China was a non-issue at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit.
“I will skip the arbitral ruling. It is not an issue here in the Asean. Code of Conduct, maybe. But the arbitral [ruling], it’s only between China and the Philippines. So I’ll skip that,” Duterte told reporters.
While he turned down suggestions to discuss the arbitral ruling, the President said the Code of Conduct in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) must be discussed during the Asean leader’s summit this weekend.
“It might be taken up but we will not talk about sovereignty over what part of the islands there…because that is not an issue before the Asean Summit. What is at issue is the conduct of the parties in the use of the China Sea,” he said.
‘China construction not covered by arbitration’
Duterte said he would continue talking to China, but reiterated that the July 12, 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague would be discussed at a later time.
Duterte claimed the arbitration tribunal did not cover China’s construction activities, which are nevertheless a violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
“I will only bring it up when the issue is about what is really or what are included in the entitlements. Construction is not one of them. It is a violation of the Law of the Sea,” he claimed.
The ruling however, made several mentions of China’s construction activities, scoring Beijing for the destruction of the area’s marine environment.
Duterte said: “We cannot, on our own, enforce the judgment of the arbitral tribunal. Stop dreaming that arbitral unless we are prepared to go to war.”
The President is set to host nine other leaders of the Asean, three member-countries of which also have competing claims with China: Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia.
The President has been criticized for his soft stance toward China and for downplaying Manila’s maritime row with Beijing in exchange for stronger economic ties.
The Philippines, as chairman of the Asean this year, has been urged to bring up Manila’s arbitration victory during the Asean meetings.
However, a draft of the Asean leaders’ statement obtained by reporters Wednesday made no mention of the arbitration ruling.
The draft would instead underscore the importance of “peace, stability, security, and freedom of navigation,” and would urge all sea claimants to settle territorial disputes in a peaceful manner.
The Asean leaders, according to the draft document, will share the “serious concern expressed by some leaders over recent developments and escalation of activities in the area.”
“We reaffirmed the importance of enhancing mutual trust and confidence, exercising self-restraint in the conduct of activities, avoiding actions that may further complicate the situation, and pursuing resolution of disputes,” the draft stated.
“We were pleased with the progress to complete a framework of the Code of Conduct (COC), in order to facilitate the early adoption of the COC within the Asean-China process.”
China and Asean countries will meet in May to discuss the Declaration on the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and finish the crafting of a code of conduct framework on the South China Sea before the year ends.
The 30th Asean meetings began Wednesday with a gathering of the Committee of Permanent Representatives at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City. The summit will conclude on Saturday.