President Rodrigo Duterte joked about making the Philippines a province of China, at an event attended by Filipino-Chinese businessmen on Monday.
Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua, who was at the same event, interpreted the President’s joke as a manifestation of wanting to have closer ties between the two countries.
Duterte is also unfazed by China’s naming of undersea features in the Philippine Rise, formerly Benham Rise, saying they are merely using their language in doing their research.
He, however, reiterated that the Philippines has sovereign rights over the area and will not allow foreign expedition in the meantime.
China, meanwhile, allayed concerns over the Chinese names, saying it’s a mere scientific process and that it respects the Philippines’ sovereign rights over the area.
Jianhua said China will respect should the Philippines refuse to recognize the Chinese names for undersea features.
When it comes to conflicting claims in the West Philippine Sea, Duterte is sticking to the diplomatic way, saying “he won’t go into a battle he could not win”.
Duterte tagged the structures China’s building in the disputed waters as “military bases”, intended for states that pose a threat to it, and not the Philippines.
He also said China has offered to conduct joint exploration in the area.