MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said he might be forced to confront China if the latter eventually extracts valuable resources from the disputed West Philippine Sea without the Philippines' knowledge.
Duterte has chosen to set aside an arbitral tribunal’s decision declaring China’s massive claim to the resource-rich sea as without basis, opting instead to pursue expand relations with its rich Asian neighbor.
The president, however, said he might change his stance and bring up Manila’s legal victory with Beijing if the latter “siphons out” mineral resources from the sea.
“When the minerals are already being siphoned out. [It’s] a question of money,” the pragmatic Duterte told CNN Philippines when asked what specific circumstance will trigger him to change his stance towards China.
“I thought we’re friends. We share economic bounties. How about us? I have this title. Anong tingin mo? Hindi kayang mabuting mag-usap tayo ngayon?”
(I thought we’re friends. We share economic bounties. How about us? I have this title. What do you think? Don’t you think it’s better that we talk now?)
In a stunning rebuke to Beijing, the arbitral tribunal invalidated in July 2016 its massive claim to the resource-rich sea, even as it has already built massive artificial islands in the hotly contested area.
Beijing, which snubbed the arbitration proceedings, has said it will not follow the tribunal's ruling, even as it faces the risk of being labeled an international outlaw.
While the arbitration ruling is a victory for the Philippines, it was widely considered a moral one as the tribunal has no means of enforcing its ruling. The decision, nonetheless, is considered a blow to Beijing, which is seeking to project itself as a benign superpower.
The historic ruling threatened to raise tension in the region, but Duterte's arrival tempered heightened emotions over the ruling.
Duterte has been open to conducting joint oil exploration with China, but the Palace downplayed his statement, saying such a venture is not yet the official policy of Manila.
The president also avoided criticizing China for its island-building in Spratlys and installation of weapons on them, opting to slam the US for supposedly not acting early enough to prevent these actions from happening.