AS CHAIRMAN of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) this year, President Rodrigo Duterte said he will relay to Chinese President Xi Jinping the concerns of Asean leaders on the militarization of the South China Sea.
Duterte said he would urge Xi to find a way to ease the tension in the South China Sea.
The President said it is about time to make Xi aware that Asean member-states are worried about China's deployment of military weapons to its occupied islands in the contested waters, as shown in photographs.
"It's important that China must realize the even if we're friends, everybody is insisting on what right do they have in the passage of the (South) China Sea, including us," the President told reporters on Thursday night in Vietnam, where he is attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum.
"The next photographs from intelligence that came up (showed that) there are (weapons). Almost all of of the islands (that China controls) were militarized already. There are batteries. Meaning, the arms are poised to fly," he said.
Duterte, as this year's Asean chair, said he believed there is nothing wrong in raising the regional bloc's concerns with China.
"It is not wrong for me to tell China. Look, you know (they) already placed the heavy artillery there. So it puts (us) in a wary -- worried and wary -- because we are also using the passage," Duterte said.
"Now, we are friends (with China). But what is the rule here (is) for everybody that's applicable to us, that is also applicable for Asean because I am the chair of the Asean. And I have to carry the voice of Asean. I don't have to parry. I have to tell the truth that everybody is worried," he added.
He said the "best way" is to have a code of conduct in the South China Sea.
The Asean and China are eyeing to complete this year a framework for a legally binding code of conduct in the contested waters.
"I do not want to lose the friendship of China. China is a good friend. China was there when we needed most of their help. They delivered the firearms that turned the tide faster," Duterte said.
"The Asean's (position is) up to where are we supposed and to what extent would be the use of that passage? The best way is to have a written code of conduct. So just you read it and you'd know that you are not crossing boundaries because as of now, it is a contested claim," he added.
The President said China must cooperate with Asean countries in coming up with a code of conduct governing the use of the seas to resolve the maritime disputes.
He said the code of conduct is an immediate solution to the territorial disputes.
"China, who is there, who controls the passage, must come up with a code of conduct," he said. "I would insist that we hurry up. Now, he (Xi) said they will not build anything in the Scarborough Shoal."
Foreign Affairs spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar said the proposed framework for the code of conduct in the South China Sea is not just legally binding but is also “effective” as it covers the interests of sea claimants.
Four Asean member-states – Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam – are claiming parts of the South China Sea. China and Taiwan, on the other hand, are claiming most of its features. (SunStar Philippines)