BEIJING - China played down on Monday a warning by President Rodrigo Duterte that Beijing would go to war if the Philippines drilled for oil in the disputed South China Sea.
Duterte met China's President Xi Jinping for talks in Beijing last week and later said Xi warned him there would be war if the Philippines tried to explore for oil in a disputed stretch of sea.
Duterte made no mention of the issue during a news briefing on Monday before he left for Russia.
Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying sought to make light of Duterte's comments, noting he and Xi had agreed to "strengthen communication" on important bilateral issues.
"During the meeting, leaders of the two countries exchanged views in depth on future development of China-Philippines relations and relevant issues. Both sides agree to strengthen communication on important issues related to the development of bilateral relations, and to proceed in a healthy, stable and correct path of good neighborly relations and cooperation," Hua said.
"In the future, China is willing to make joint efforts with the Philippines to implement important consensus reached by both heads of state, to properly handle disputes between the two countries through peaceful, friendly and cooperative (methods), to continuously deepen and expand pragmatic cooperation in various fields and to push forward a healthy and stable development of China-Philippines relations," Hua added.
Philippine Ambassador to China Chito Sta. Romana also denied Beijing's bullying.
Sta. Romana, who joined the first Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) between Manila and Beijing last week, said there was no threat from the Chinese side during the talks.
"But by own experience in the bilateral talks, [there were] no threats, no bullying, everything was frank but friendly, candid but productive," he told ANC.
"The whole idea...therefore that China was bullying us and threatening us just doesn’t pass," he added.
Duterte on Friday claimed that China warned his administration of war if Manila will insist on its ownership of areas in the disputed South China Sea.
Duterte said the Chinese side issued the warning after he expressed the Philippines' intent to drill oil in the resource-rich waters.
It was initially unclear in the president’s speech who issued the warning and when. But Duterte said at the latter part of his speech that he asserted the Philippines' right to its exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea to Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The president held bilateral talks with Xi on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation last week.
“I said, Mr. Xi Jinping, I will insist that it is ours and we will drill oil,” Duterte said in a speech in Davao City.
“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?”
Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said if Xi indeed issued a threat, the Duterte administration should raise the issue at the United Nations.