MANILA- Philippine Ambassador to China Chito Sta. Romana denied on Monday bullying by China over the South China Sea following a threat to go to war as disclosed by President Duterte.
Sta. Romana, who joined the first Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) between Manila and Beijing last week, said there was no threat from the Chinese side during the talks.
"But by own experience in the bilateral talks, [there were] no threats, no bullying, everything was frank but friendly, candid but productive," he told ANC.
"The whole idea...therefore that China was bullying us and threatening us just doesn’t pass," he added.
Manila and Beijing agreed to pursue “confidence-building” measures and "identify mutually acceptable approaches" towards resolving the South China Sea dispute in its inaugural BCM last Friday.
Sta. Romana downplayed President Rodrigo Duterte's revelation of a threat of war from Chinese leader Xi Jinping, saying it has to be put in context that the two leaders met Monday, May 15, while the talks happened Friday, May 19.
Duterte in a speech last Friday said Xi warned of war if the Philippines pushes through with its plan to drill for oil in the resource-rich waters.
Sta. Romana said reactions of bringing the issue to an international court have been "overblown," and that the bilateral talks are beneficial since there is now a mechanism to discuss contentious issues.
"We actually have a mechanism [BCM] now both in terms of high-level personal diplomacy as well as the actual mechanism we have for discussing precisely these issues," he said.
University of the Philippines Political Science Associate Professor Herman Kraft, meanwhile, noted that the talks were already expected to happen but what was surprising was how fast it happened.
"With the improvement of relationships between the Philippines and China and the direction President Duterte was taking as far as our relationship with the Chinese are concerned, it was clear that at some point we would have bilateral engagements with China on the issue," he said.