MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said he made the "correct step" in dealing with Manila's dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea.
Duterte said the sea dispute is one of the "serious problems confronting" the Southeast Asian region, as China's claim to almost the entire sea overlaps with those of other countries in the region.
The President, however, believes he made the right decision in downplaying Manila’s dispute with Beijing over the vital waterway, adding that he was not in a hurry to resolve the issue.
"The South China Sea is one [of the serious challenges] but we are not in a hurry. And as a matter of fact, what we did was really the correct step and to avoid confrontational talks with almost all of the parties concerned. I just [asked] for a limited time to solve the problem and sharing of the resources if it could be done," Duterte said in a speech in Pasay City.
Since assuming power, President Duterte has chosen to downplay the sea dispute and set aside Manila’s arbitral victory in pursuit of warmer ties with the Asian giant.
The Filipino leader, nonetheless, said he would bring up the legal victory at the proper time, assuring the public that he is not giving up Manila’s claims to the resource-rich sea.
Manila’s sudden policy shift under Duterte has dismayed anti-Chinese figures in the region, as Beijing continues to strengthen its hold on artificial islands in the Spratlys archipelago.
The rapprochement between Manila and Beijing under Duterte has resulted in China pouring in financial pledges and military hardware donations for the Philippines.
Critics, however, have warned of the implications to Philippine sovereignty of Duterte’s cozying up with Beijing.