MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday said he and Chinese President Xi Jinping have agreed that going to war over the South China Sea is not an option, as the two countries work on a code of conduct aimed at managing tensions in the disputed sea considered a potential flashpoint in the region.
Duterte and Xi held a bilateral meeting late Saturday and discussed the sea dispute, with the two leaders agreeing that a war over the maritime vital route will not do either side any good.
“We agreed, he agrees. He (Xi) said, ‘If you are President Duterte and you want to preserve the lives of Filipinos, then as President of China, I want to save lives. I don’t waste the lives of my countrymen for a useless war that cannot be won by anybody,’” Duterte said said in his speech during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Business and Investment Summit.
Duterte added that Xi “made it clear to us that the only way to go is cooperation.”
“There are… hotheads who would like us to confront China and the rest of the world for so many issues,” Duterte said.
“Nobody can afford to go to war, either with the big powers Russia, China, Britain or the US.”
The President said it is better for all of the claimants to leave the South China Sea “untouched,” although China and the other sea claimants have built artificial islands in the disputed sea to reinforce their claims.
Since assuming the presidency, Duterte has adopted a friendlier stance towards China, downplaying the maritime dispute between Manila and Beijing in pursuit of improved economic ties.
In defending his move to seek better ties with Beijing, Duterte had previously said Manila cannot afford to go to war with Beijing, which spends an enormous amount on its military.
Aside from the Philippines, ASEAN member-states Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam also have overlapping claims to the sea with China and Taiwan.
The sea dispute is expected to be one of the hot-button issues in this week’s regional meet, where leaders from the 10-nation ASEAN and their dialogue partners, including China, the United States and Japan, are due to attend.