Duterte raises PH concerns over South China Sea incursions with China's Xi

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 25 2019 09:04 PM | Updated as of Apr 26 2019 11:14 AM

President Rodrigo Duterte shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, where the Filipino leader is on his fourth trip as President. Malacañang photo

MANILA (UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte raised Manila’s concerns over rising tensions in the West Philippine Sea during his bilateral meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Malacañang said Thursday.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Duterte particularly discussed the situation in Pag-asa Island.

“Both agree that the situation can be managed by the mechanism of bilateral negotiations but it should not affect the cooperation being undertaken by both the Philippines and China and they look forward to a productive discussion on matters of mutual concern and interests,” Panelo said Thursday.

Duterte’s fourth trip to the Chinese capital comes on the heels of the rising number of Chinese vessels near islands in the West Philippine Sea, the country's exclusive economic zone in the disputed South China Sea, and the continued harassment reported by Filipino fishermen.

Earlier, the Philippine military reported that over 600 Chinese vessels have been spotted near Pag-asa Island since January this year. 

Sightings of Chinese vessels have also been reported near Kota Island, and Panata Island.

During the meeting, the Chinese leader “expounded on the importance of good neighborliness and proper handling of differences between the countries,” according to Panelo.

“While the Chinese leader acknowledged the inevitable of having challenges to the bilateral relations, he placed importance on the mutual trust that exists between the two nations in order to resolve the same,” the Palace official said.

Ahead of Duterte’s visit to China, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the Philippines had already filed a “salvo” of diplomatic notes to Beijing over the presence of Chinese vessels near Pag-asa Island, which is part of Palawan.

Duterte’s meeting with Xi comes months after the Chinese president's historic state visit to the Philippines in November, where they reaffirmed friendship between the two countries and signed several agreements including a memorandum of understanding on oil and gas development.

Analysts earlier said President Duterte should raise the arbitral ruling which invalidated China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea in his meeting with Xi.

“The fundamental message that he has to deliver is that China is not acting only in contravention to international law but basically is being completely unfair and unilateral and making any negotiations, talks with the Philippines at present is pointless,” Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea told ABS-CBN News.

“The ‘pivot to China’ policy should be abandoned and it's time to play the arbitral ruling card and gain the support of the international community,” University of Santo Tomas political analyst Dennis Coronacion said.

Panelo said Xi cited the said memorandum during the meeting “as an example where both the Philippines and China suspended their differences for a joint exploration that would mutually benefit both countries and their peoples.”

Talks between the 2 leaders ended with President Duterte maintaining that the Philippines remains as “China’s ally in Southeast Asia.”

Duterte also emphasized that the Philippines and China as allies “strengthen—and do not destroy – each other.”

Malacañang earlier said the Philippines is being “diplomatically kind” to China and is making a “studied response” with regard to its actions in the waterway given Beijing’s assistance to Manila.

“If we're friends, then we should be friendly in terms of our actions,” Panelo earlier said.

China however has continued to ignore the Philippines' landmark victory before a United Nations-backed tribunal, which invalidated Beijing's expansive 9-dash line claim over South China Sea.