It is better to temporarily shelf any talks on the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN Summit to avoid pissing off China about it. This was the stance President Rodrigo Duterte took during a press conference on August 17 at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
“No, I will only bring the issue face-to-face (with China)” Duterte said, “because if you quarrel with them now, claim sovereignty, make noise here and there—they might not just even want to talk.”
The Summit is set for September 6 to 8 in Laos, Cambodia.
Instead, Duterte prefers a bilateral talk with China, where they “sit down and talk directly,” one on one, and get the chance to iron out things. “And that is the time I would say, ‘we proceed from here,’” the president added.
War with China is definitely out of the question, said Duterte, as he has always maintained in interviews.
“I would not be stupid to do that. It would be a massacre for all. Maybe many [casualties] for us, some for them. But still, war is not an option nowadays,” he maintained.
Being assertive of our rights over the West Philippine Sea during the summit will be a bad timing. “Eh kung awayin (natin) tapos sabihin, ‘Eh ayoko makipagsalita sa inyo, bahala kayo sa buhay ninyo,’ (What if we argue with them and they say, ‘We don’t want to talk with you so mind your own business’) can we do anything? Wala man tayong magawa (We won’t be able to do anything). We declare war? It’s not an option,” Duterte said.
However, Duterte assured that the appointment of former President Fidel V. Ramos as a special envoy would pave the way for a good initial contact with China on the matter and renew friendly relations.
“Ramos is there paving the way to the good offices of anybody or any other country, but you know we maintain good relations with China,” Duterte assured his audience.
An international arbitral tribunal in The Hague decided about a month ago that China had no historic right over South China Sea and therefore had breached Philippine sovereign rights when they encroached on its territories there. But this disappointed Beijing and decided not to recognize the tribunal ruling.
During the subsequent ASEAN meeting of foreign ministers, Cambodia upheld China’s rights over the disputed waters resulting in the omission of the tribunal ruling in the ASEAN communiqué jointly decided by the participants.
Yasay insisted that he “vigorously pushed” for the inclusion of the ruling and insisted that the non-inclusion did not automatically mean a win for China, although a recording surfaced later that had him saying that he “never” pitched for the inclusion of The Hague ruling to be included in the joint ASEAN statement.