Duterte sees 'beyond words,' Palace says on Chinese envoy's remarks

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 30 2019 02:55 PM

President Rodrigo Duterte greets Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua on the sidelines of the International Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee head Song Tao's courtesy call on the President at Matina Enclaves in Davao City on March 27, 2019. Richard Madelo, Presidential Photo

MANILA -- President Rodrigo Duterte thinks "beyond words," his spokesperson said Tuesday after China said its military was positioned for self defense.

Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua, in remarks released by his office, said Beijing "will not fire the first shot" and that it was committed to resolving disputes in the South China Sea.

Manila "does not take words of other countries on their face value," Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo told reporters, when asked about Zhao's comments, which were delivered during a dinner reception on Monday for the People's Liberation Army's 92nd anniversary.

"The President will always think beyond those words," he said.

China is building its military for self-defense and will "never seek hegemony or never establish spheres of influence" no matter how strong it becomes, Zhao said.

"China adopts a military strategy of active defense which adheres to the principle of defense, self-defense and post-strike response. Meaning we will not take the first shot," Zhao said.

Beijing has built artificial islands over disputed reefs and outcrops in resource-rich waters, including those claimed by Manila, sparking international concern.

During his fourth State of the Nation Address, President Rodrigo Duterte promised Filipinos that he would fight for the country’s rights "in due time." He said the disputes would be resolved in a "peaceful way."

"The President is mandated to protect the security of this country as well as the Filipino people hence he will anticipate what may come out of any aggressive action that this country may undertake vis-à-vis the conflict in this area," Panelo said.

Duterte has sought to downplay rising tensions in the disputed waters, warning Filipinos that the Philippines could not afford to go to war with China.

He previously revealed that his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, warned him of "trouble" if Manila drills for oil in the West Philippine Sea, a remark that the government took as "an anticipation of what may happen" according to Panelo.

Panelo also reiterated that the Philippines would continue to engage China in negotiations to resolve the maritime dispute.

"We will repeat our position, we said that the conflict in that region will be the subject of continuous negotiation between the 2 countries and by such mechanism, we hope to solve or end or resolve the conflict whatever they are," he said.