MANILA- President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said he would rather seek a dialogue with China over the presence of Chinese ships in Benham Rise.
Speaking to reporters in Malacañang, Duterte said he believes China would not build structures in Benham Rise despite China's assertion that the Philippines cannot claim it as its territory.
"Why would I want to fight? I'd rather talk," he said, noting that the Philippines cannot match China's military capacity.
"I cannot match the might of China. Have you seen how they are prepared to fight terrorism?" he said.
The Philippines' claim to Benham Rise, a 13-million-hectare area located east of Luzon island believed to be gas-rich, was approved by the United Nations in 2012.
While China claims almost the entire South China Sea, it has no claims over Benham Rise.
China's foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang had acknowledged the 2012 ruling of the United Nations but said “it does not mean that the Philippines can take it as its own territory.”
Geng confirmed Chinese vessels for “marine research” passed through Benham Rise, but insisted this was only in exercise of the principle of “freedom of navigation” and “right to innocent passage.”
Duterte said he would rather not fight with China since "things are going great" in the Philippines and explained that he has to weigh things.
"Let us not fight about ownership or sovereignty at this time," he said.
Since assuming the presidency last year, Duterte has sought closer ties with China, choosing to downplay the international arbitral ruling on the South China Sea favoring the Philippines, in exchange for reinvigorated economic ties.