MANILA – Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua on Friday said Beijing's rejection of Manila's arbitral victory over the South China Sea will remain, as President Rodrigo Duterte said he would finally bring up the landmark ruling with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Duterte, in a speech on Tuesday afternoon, confirmed plans to discuss the arbitral ruling with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping during his upcoming trip, his fifth as President.
But Zhao said Beijing's position on the arbitral ruling is unshakable.
"Our position has been clearly stated at the very beginning of the filing of the arbitration. And when the result of the arbitration [came out]... we also expressed that we will not accept it and we will not recognize it. And that position has not changed, and will not be changed,” Zhao said on the sidelines of a Department of the Interior and Local Government event, where the Chinese government donated P10 million to victims of a recent earthquake in Batanes.
Zhao, nonetheless, said he believes the friendly ties between the China and the Philippines under Duterte won't be affected by the Filipino leader's plan.
He said he believes Duterte would not be confrontational when he brings up the matter with Xi, adding he did not hear from Duterte the term "invoke."
“I don’t recall that he said, that he used the term ‘invoke’. He said, if I remember it correctly, he will mention it in a non-confrontational and friendly manner,” he said.
The West Philippine Sea is the country's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, which China claims in near entirety.
Duterte earlier said the time has come for him to assert Manila’s rights to the disputed sea.
“I’m going to China to talk. Did I not tell you before, that before my term ends, I will be talking about the [South] China Sea?” he said during the oath-taking of newly-elected officials of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc. last Tuesday, noting that there are “scuffles” that need to be addressed.
In 2016, the Philippines won a case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which invalidated China’s claim to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea.
It also made clear that the potentially oil-rich Recto (Reed) Bank was inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the West Philippine Sea. China does not recognize the ruling and has instead ramped up its militarization efforts in the vital waterway.
Duterte has repeatedly faced criticism in the past for refusing to invoke the Philippines' victory, which was handed down at the start of his term. The arbitration case was initiated by the administration of his predecessor Benigno Aquino III.
Recently, the Philippine leader has come under fire over a verbal agreement with Xi on fishing in disputed waters after a Chinese ship hit and sank a Filipino fishing boat in the area in June, a case he called a simple maritime incident.