There is no sense in going to war over the disputed South China Sea as talks are far better, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said.
Duterte comes to China on Tuesday with at least 200 members of the Philippine business elite to pave the way for what he calls a new commercial alliance, amid deteriorating ties with long-time ally the United States.
On Sunday, Duterte said he would raise a controversial ruling on the South China Sea with China’s leaders and vowed not to surrender any sovereignty or deviate from the July decision by the tribunal in The Hague.
The ruling dealt a blow to China’s extensive claims in the South China Sea. Beijing has refused to recognise the case and has chided any country telling it to abide by the ruling.
In a Xinhua interview published on Monday, Duterte said he wanted negotiation, not confrontation, over the South China Sea.
“There is no sense in going to war. There is no sense fighting over a body of water,” he said.
And in Brunei, Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said the South China Sea issue was not the sum total of the relationship between China and the Philippines, and that the time was not yet right to discuss resolving it.
“We still have to build up the lost trust and confidence that was weakened or eroded during the past administration,” Yasay said.
“But then we should not also miss out on the opportunities for a trade and economic relationship that we would need as much as China.”
The unpredictable Duterte’s moves to engage China, just a few months after the tribunal ruling sparked fears of a backlash by Beijing in the South China Sea, mark a striking reversal in Philippine foreign policy since its president took office on June 30.
In a separate interview with Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television, broadcast on Monday, Duterte said he was open to joint military exercises with China and Russia, and reiterated that he would no longer allow drills with the United States.
China’s Foreign Ministry earlier sought to downplay Duterte’s remarks from Sunday on the arbitration ruling.
Asked about his comments, ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that Duterte would make his policy in the best interests of his country and its people.
“China’s door has always been open to the Philippines, and I think you’ve also noticed that President Duterte has many times said he wants dialogue with China,” she said.
Reuters, Agence France-Presse