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The Philippines has reached the “best level of friendship” with China but would still not surrender its territorial claim in the disputed South China Sea, President Duterte declared last Wednesday.
The President has pledged to raise the arbitral judgment on the South China Sea issue with China when it starts to “excavate” mineral resources in the contested territory.
“We are at our best level of friendship with China after I went there,” the President said during his visit to Mindoro, citing improvement in the trade and investment ties between the two countries.
Duterte, however, told China that “we have not abandoned our claim,” referring to the country’s maritime entitlements in the South China Sea despite the improving friendship with China.
“At any time during my term, we will have to talk about the arbitration of the China Sea. And when that time comes, I would present to you the judgment on all four corners of the paper,” Duterte said, referring to the July award by the tribunal in The Hague.
On when he intends to raise the arbitration ruling with China’s leaders, Duterte said: “When they start to excavate or whatever there is in the bowels of the sea, tapos may pera na, katukin ko sila: ‘Tao po. Ang amin. Paano na lang ito?’ Iyan, that’s about the time.”
For now, the President said he made the “correct decision” in enhancing friendly relations with China, citing that the country’s banana and pineapple exports with China are “back at full normal.”
He even encouraged local farmers to improve their agricultural production to meet China’s growing demand for their products.
“To the credit of (China) President Xi Jinping, napakabait na tao. Pati ‘yung Chinese, talagang Chinese people, they are really good. They are faithful friends,” said Duterte who is scheduled to return to China this May to attend an infrastructure development forum.
Duterte recalled how Philippine-China relations were strained when his predecessor, President Benigno S. Aquino III, filed an arbitration case before the Hague-based tribunal.
He said the country was “really suffering” due to China’s perception it was dovetailing the foreign policy of the United States.
“Nagalit lang siya kay Aquino and they hated Aquino and for the rest of his term, hindi tayo pinapansin,” he said.
But when he met Xi in Beijing last October, Duterte said he told his Chinese counterpart that his visit was made “in good faith” and centered on enhancing trade ties.
“I extend my hand in friendship. Wala akong hangarin. Wala akong hinihingi sa inyo. Gusto ko lang mag-negosyo.
Bibilhin namin anong kailangan namin tapos bilhin ninyo mga produkto namin,” he said. (Genalyn D. Kabiling)