MANILA - Malacañang on Monday disputed a maritime law expert’s comment that the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte has given “too much, too early and too soon” in pursuing better ties with China.
University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea director Jay Batongbacal on Saturday warned that the Philippines may end up shortchanged in seeking better ties with the Asian giant.
Batongbacal noted that while China has promised billions of dollars in investments in the Philippines, these projects have yet to start. This, as Beijing continues to install military equipment on its artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, however, said the Philippines has reaped the benefits of engaging China in a non-combative stance, which is opposite to how the previous administration dealt with China.
“The Duterte administration has certainly not given up too much, too early, [and] too soon in its relation with China nor has China gained more than us,” Roque said in a news conference in Malacañang.
“On the contrary, we have upheld our national interest and produced tangible benefits for our people in pursuing friendly and mutually beneficial ties with China.”
Since assuming power, Duterte has sought to downplay Manila’s South China Sea dispute with Beijing in pursuit of better economic ties with Asia’s largest economy.
Despite the Philippines’ perceived appeasement of China under Duterte, Roque maintained the Philippines “will continue to defend our sovereignty and sovereign rights when we discuss our territorial and maritime disputes with China.”
China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims in the South China Sea where $5 trillion in trade goods pass annually. The area is also believed to contain oil and gas reserves.