Duterte raises PH arbitral win in dialogue with Chinese envoy

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 25) — President Rodrigo Duterte raised Manila's arbitral win against Beijing in the South China Sea dispute in a recent meeting with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian, Malacañang said Thursday.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte brought up the presence of over 200 Chinese fishing and maritime vessels at the Julian Felipe Reef, also known as Whitsun Reef, and stood firm on the Philippines' sovereign rights over its resources.

"Naging malinaw naman po ang naging mensahe ni Presidente kagaya noong siya'y nagsalita sa UN. Una, poprotektahan natin ang ating teritoryo at ikinokonsidera pa rin natin na kabahagi ng teritoryo natin ang Julian Felipe Reef. Tayo'y naninidigan sa arbitral award, at ang hidwaan sa West Philippine Sea ay dapat maresolba sa pamamagitan ng United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea," Roque said. "Hindi po nagbabago ang posisyon ng Presidente."

[Translation: The President's message was clear, like what he told the United Nations before. We will protect our territory and we consider Julian Felipe Reef as part of our territory. We stand by our arbitral victory, and we believe that the West Philippine Sea row should be resolved through the UNCLOS... The President's position hasn't changed.]

Roque did not disclose the exact date of the meeting, but noted it was simply a "scheduled social call" between the two as Duterte's birthday approaches on Sunday, March 28.

"Ang sabi ng Tsina nandoon lang ang kanilang mangingisda dahil they are seeking refuge from bad weather," Roque said. "Sana po lumipas na ang bad weather at in the spirit of friendship hindi mananatili doon ang mga barkong iyon."

[Translation: China said their fishermen are just seeking refuge from bad weather. We hope the bad weather will finally cease and in the spirit of friendship, those vessels will not stay there anymore.]

The Philippines already lodged a diplomatic protest against China and demanded the latter to withdraw its vessels and maritime assets encroaching in the country's exclusive economic zone.

READ: PH gov't demands withdrawal of Chinese vessels in Julian Felipe Reef

In a chance interview on Thursday, Huang merely repeated the embassy's statement about China's vessels supposedly seeking shelter. He noted that any speculation "will not be helpful."

In 2016, a landmark ruling of the arbitral tribunal in The Hague recognized the Philippines' sovereign rights in areas within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone and continental shelf that are being claimed by China. The ruling also invalidated China's sweeping claims to the South China Sea, where other claimants include Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Taiwan. However, China continues to reject this ruling.