Palace says Duterte to pursue bilateral ties with China despite territorial disputes

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 26) — President Rodrigo Duterte will pursue the country's bilateral ties with China on issues both countries can mutually agree on, while setting aside those they have yet to resolve, Malacañang said on Monday.

"He will pursue his bilateral relations," Presidentisl spokesman Harry Roque said during his regular virtual briefing. "Ipagpapatuloy niya ang relasyon sa bansang Tsina dun sa mga bagay-bagay na pupuwedeng isulong at isasantabi ang mga hindi mareresolba sa ating lifetime."

[Translation: He will continue his relationship with China on things that can be pursued and set aside what cannot be resolved during our lifetime.]

Roque argued that the country's territorial dispute with China, particularly over losing the Scarborough Shoal to Beijing and the latter setting up artificial islands in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, happened before Duterte came into office and that he "had to deal with these" when he became chief executive.

"Hindi sa termino ni Presidente na nagkaroon tayo ng batas at isang desisyon ni Justice Carpio na naging dahilan kung bakit nawalan tayo ng internal waters at territorial seas," Roque explained, referring to Republic Act 9522 or the Baselines Law signed in 2009 by former President Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo.

[Translation: It is not under the term of the President (Duterte) that we had a law and a decision by (former Supreme Court Associate) Justice (Antonio) Carpio that resulted in our country losing internal waters and territorial seas.]

"Ang nawalang territorial sea natin ay 229,000 square miles at ang naging territorial sea na lang natin sang-ayon sa UNCLOS at sang-ayon sa Archipelagic Baselines Law ay 34,300 square miles na lang ang natira," argued Roque.

[Translation: We lost 229,000 square miles in territorial seas, and what was left to us according to the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea and Archipelagic Baselines Law was only 34,300 square miles.]

Still, Roque clarified the Palace is not blaming anyone, and that the President ended up deciding to push through with the country's bilateral ties with China, particularly in business and investments.

However, despite Duterte's friendly attitude toward Beijing, the Philippines has carried out more aggressive actions against China under his term, Roque said.

These include the Philippines protesting last year China's declaration of two new districts in what it calls Sansha City, which covered areas in the West Philippine Sea. 

Just this month, Manila had been filing diplomatic protests against Beijing and numerous appeals as Chinese vessels remain in the West Philippine Sea.

China, meanwhile, has consistently refused to recognize the landmark arbitral tribunal ruling in The Hague in 2016 affirming the Philippines' sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone.