MANILA – The President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, raised the possibility of cooperating with China and Vietnam on exploration projects in the South China Sea to reduce tension caused in the region by territorial disputes.
During a press conference in Davao on Tuesday, Duterte proposed analyzing the available means to reach a fair and balanced agreement among the three nations after participating in the New Silk Road Forum in Beijing and meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang.
“If we can get something there with no hassle at all, so why not?” Duterte said, alluding to the waters off the Spratly Islands which are being claimed wholly or partially by Brunei, China, Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.
In the case of the Philippines, the Permanent Court of Arbitration of The Hague ruled in favor of Manila in July 2016 regarding the sovereignty dispute over the Scarborough Atoll and dismissed rights claimed by China, which has refused to accept the ruling.
Duterte has altered his country’s policies with regards to the disputed islands, and set aside the confrontation to strengthen ties with China, with whom he signed investment and cooperation agreements.
Asked at the press conference whether he had raised the issue on his visit to China, Duterte responded that he has agreed with Xi and Li to discuss the dispute at the right time, and noted that the priority for national security is to avoid problems and prevent war.
Duterte also stressed the need to create a multilateral code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes, echoing sentiments by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations during the summit of heads of State and government held in Manila in late April.