Duterte won't compromise PH sea claims in China's Belt and Road forum - envoy

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 13 2017 11:04 AM | Updated as of May 13 2017 11:39 AM

President Rodrigo Duterte's attendance in the Belt and Road Initiative in Beijing will not compromise the Philippines' claims in the South China Sea, Philippine Ambassador to China Chito Sta. Romana said Saturday.

"We are not signing an alliance or treaty here. We are participating in a forum," Sta. Romana said in a press conference in Beijing.

Duterte and his team of economic managers will "proceed from our own national interest under the banner of an independent foreign policy" when crafting deals with their counterparts in China's capital, Sta. Romana said.

"Where there are areas of convergence, we will proceed," he said.

The envoy said the South China Sea dispute may have to take a backseat during the forum as the Duterte administration opts to have a "compartmentalized" approach towards relations with China.

"If you put the disputes in the front and center of bilateral relations and say you have to resolve this first before you can have trade and cultural links, the relations will be frozen," Sta. Romana said.

"The strategy is to put the dispute in a separate track, (but) to put it in a separate track is not to abandon or give up," he added.

China has stepped up militarization and island-building in the South China Sea as it continued to assert ownership over nearly all of the waters, despite conflicting claims of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

This as it continued to ignore a United Nations arbitral ruling invalidating its nine-dash line claim following legal action initiated by the Philippines.

Despite the unresolved dispute, President Duterte has pursued warmer ties with China, even vowing to deviate from the country's traditional alliance with the United States.

In the Philippines' recent hosting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the bloc's leaders joint statement called for the observance of principles under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, but was silent on continuing Chinese incursions in the waters and the Philippines' arbitration victory.

Duterte is among 28 heads of state expected to take part in the forum set May 14 and 15. His attendance to the global development meet comes just as as his administration pursues an ambitious P8-trillion infrastructure development plan.