MANILA- China acted like a "bully" when it threatened the Philippines with war over the South China Sea dispute, a former envoy said Saturday.
Former Ambassador Jose Apolinario Lozada said he was discouraged and disturbed with Beijing's recent warning, saying it should have asked Manila to discuss the issue instead.
"I’m disturbed, I’m deeply disturbed with the statement that was told to us by the President (Rodrigo Duterte) when they (China) said that they are going to war with us simply because we are going to insist on our claims over the islands which we have been claiming ever since," he told ANC.
Lozada said a "good neighbor and a good friend" should have asked Manila to sit down and settle the dispute.
Since assuming office, President Rodrigo Duterte has sought to mend frayed ties between Manila and Beijing, downplaying the July 2016 arbitral ruling that favored the Philippines and invalidated China's nine-dash line claim.
Duterte on Friday said Beijing warned his administration of war if Manila would insist on its claims in the disputed waters. He said the warning was issued after he expressed the Philippines' intent to drill oil in the resource-rich waters.
“Sinabi ko talaga harap-harapan, that is ours and we intend to drill oil there. My view is I can drill the oil. Ang sagot sa akin, ‘Well we are friends. We don’t want to quarrel with you. We want to maintain warm relationship, but if you force the issue, we will go to war.’ Ano pa bang sabihin ko?” Duterte said of his conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Duterte made the revelation just as the Philippines and China began bilateral talks on the dispute in Guiyang, China through the newly forged Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM).
Lozada however remains positive that the two countries could resolve the maritime dispute diplomatically, following the BCM talks.
"We will continue to engage them in diplomatic conversation and communication," he said.
"I think it’s a big progress in terms of asking the Chinese to sit down with us and talk about issues in the South China Sea so that one is a plus development, which makes us happier and hoping that we would really be able to solve our problems with regards to our bilateral relations," he added.