PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday said he would grab the opportunity to be “frank” with Chinese officials about his concerns on the territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
He said he would express the Philippines’ concerns over the potential changes to the “entire geography of the world,” if the dispute over the resource-rich waters exacerbates.
Duterte is expected to meet with Chinese officials at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum in Vietnam this week.
He made the remark at the 67th anniversary celebration of the Philippine Marine Press Corps held in Taguig City.
“It is the politics and power that could change the entire landscape of the political situation of the world. It is really a geopolitic thing and we just have to consider ourselves now, not in a defensive position, but to insist that it is our position and we do not have (to be adversarial),” Duterte said.
“I’m going to Apec tomorrow and we have the bilateral (meetings). It would be at the time that I will be frank with China also. I know where (it’s) going, the direction and the game of geopolitics. I said, it would change the entire landscape of Southeast Asia if something goes wrong,” he added.
Duterte has maintained his soft-landing approach with China in settling the disputes in South China Sea as he considers the powerful Asian nation as the Philippines’ “friend.”
On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, Netherlands ruled in favor of the Philippines, stressing that China’s nine-dash line in the disputed waters is “invalid.”
The President, however, has rejected calls to assert the Philippines’ victory, saying the nation is not ready to go to war against China.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said earlier Tuesday that Duterte’s position on dealing with China, in connection with maritime disputes, remains “executory.”
Duterte reiterated that it is not the proper time to challenge China as it would only yield grave repercussions.
“If I were to insist on our arbitral claim as demanded by some of the justices, I would run afoul with everything else because China is not only the power[ful nation] that is claiming a part of the China Sea,” the President said.
“I hope you understand that because I cannot afford to go to war. You know, I know that it would end up in a massacre. I cannot start a [war with China]. We do not (have) nuclear arms and everything; as a matter of fact, we’re just bystanders,” he added.
For now, Duterte said he would just remain optismistic that Chinese President XI Jinping would honor his earlier promise not to build artificial islands in the contested waters.
He, however, assured the public that he was merely waiting for the right time to assert the country’s position about “what we think is ours.”
“I just hope that he (Xi) would honor it because it will change the entire geography of the world. And war starts. I don’t know what will be the next geographical division of Asia,” Duterte said.
“But you will have to trust me that I will go there (and) I will assert something, and that is our inherent right one day to really put at stake to what we think is ours. It is not the time to do it,” he added. (SunStar Philippines)