President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday said it was not yet time to engage China with “aggression” on the maritime dispute over the South China Sea.
Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a bilateral meeting in Vietnam on Saturday at the close of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec).
Duterte said he raised the issue of the South China Sea amid growing concerns among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) member states on the reclamation and militarization on the disputed sea.
“We never surrendered anything. Just say, I do not want to talk about this for the moment. It is not time for aggression, it is not time for violence,” he said in press briefing at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) Terminal 2 after his arrival from Vietnam.
“We have so many problems domestic to take care of before we start to venture on some sort of an aggressive stand,” he added.
But Duterte said he relayed to Xi the concern of Asean member states over the reclamation and militarization in the disputed sea.
“I had to do it because the Philippines chairs the Asean now. I cannot escape that from my duty. So I have every right to ask him,” he said.
“But I explained it to him in a very nice way that it was all — that was all the rest of it,” he added.
Duterte said Xi assured him that there was nothing to worry on the reported militarization in the South China Sea.
“I was talking about the military buildup, he says, ‘no, it’s nothing.’ He knows that if he goes to war, everything will blow up. He acknowledged that war cannot be promoted by anybody, but it would only mean destruction for all of us,” he said.
Duterte also said Xi Jinping had assured him of China’s commitment to the right of safe passage in the disputed sea.
“He assured us again na, ‘Do not worry. You have all the rights of the safe passage. That will also be applicable to all countries,’” he said.
Duterte said it was a right move for the Philippines to bring our maritime row before the United Nation’s tribunal in The Hague.
“Kasi tayo lang ‘yung pumunta sa korte. Tama ‘yung ginawa ni Aquino. No doubt about it. Tama si Carpio,” he said.
(We were the only ones who went to court. What Aquino did was right. No doubt about it. Carpio was right.)
Aside from the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Taiwan are claiming sovereign rights over parts of the South China Sea.