Duterte to raise South China Sea issue with China's Xi

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 8) — The South China Sea dispute is top of mind for President Rodrigo Duterte as he left for Vietnam Wednesday to take part in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit.

When asked about what his expectations were from a possible meeting in Da Nang, Vietnam with China's leaders, Duterte said it was time for President Xi Jinping to tell members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) what it wanted.

Duterte said he would ask Xi what the stakes were.

"You want to control the passage, or do we have free passage? Unbridled, undisturbed, unmolested while we use that small way from the Indian Ocean...facing Palawan," Duterte said in a news briefing at the international airport before his departure for Vietnam.

Duterte said he would do so for the sake of the country as well as other states with claims on the South China Sea such as Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

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Duterte added if he were to confront China alone, there would be no problem in discussions about territory.

"But there are contesting countries which has overlapping jurisdictions," the President said. "If I engage China now, I have to engage the others."

Duterte said China could not just favor the Philippines in discussions on the South China Sea because China would "scramble" to appease other claimant-states.

"It would be something like a scramble there because if China concedes to one, Philippines, it has to concede to the others," he said.

"What will now happen to our general claim of being the economic zone belonging to my country? That's a problem," Duterte said.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS – an international treaty that sets the limits of countries' territorial waters and guidelines for the use of marine resources – countries are provided with a 200-mile exclusive economic zone where they are given the sole right to fish, mine, drill or use other resources within their respective zones.

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The Philippine and China are signatories to the treaty.

In January 2013, the Philippines filed an arbitral case against China for its claim of large swathes of the South China Sea – including areas within the country's exclusive economic zone.

In July 2016, the Arbitral Tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague released a 479 page "Award," or ruling, that shot down China's claim that it has historically exercised exclusive control over the waters within its "nine-dash line" boundary. The five-member panel also found that China had caused "severe harm" to the marine environment because of its land reclamations.

Duterte added he would bring "this important matter to the surface" either at the plenary or bilateral talks so the country know if it would be safe to travel the area.

Secretary Delfin Lorenzana during a forum on Wednesday said Chinese and Filipino nationals had an encounter near Pag-asa Island last August.

RELATED: Duterte ordered to stop building structures in disputed waters – Defense chief

"We tried to put some structures on one of the sandbars near our island and the Chinese reacted," Lorenzana said. "The President came to know about this, and he said that, 'Let's pull out.'"

'No one wants a war'

Duterte said again that conflicts in the area are all about geopolitics.

"It's all blustering. The real reason is geopolitics," he said.

"Nobody wants a war. I am very sure of that. China does not want it because if there is a bomb dropped somewhere in Korea, it will be a meltdown for the rest of Asia and Southeast Asia," Duterte said.

In August, Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano claimed his military sources have spotted Chinese vessels stationed near the Pag-asa Island. Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano said the presence of ships alone is meaningless.

The President said participants in the APEC Summit are all for peaceful negotiations.

Duterte to meet Trump

President Duterte and U.S. President Donald Trump will meet face-to-face for the first time in Vietnam.

While more extensive discussions between the two leaders are expected to happen at the ASEAN Summit here in Manila next week, President Duterte already gave a glimpse of topics the wants to discuss with President Trump.

These are trade, extremism, terrorism, and the South China Sea.

President Duterte is also wary of human rights issues which may be asked him of him. This concerns the alleged killings in the drug war which has received a lot of international attention.

He has a ready answer in case this issue is raised.

He'll say: "Lay off. That's not your business. That's my business.I take care of my country and i will nurture my country to health."

The President will return to Manila on the 11th, in time for the ASEAN Summit which many leaders in Vietnam, as well as President Trump, will also be attending.

APEC is a regional economic forum established in 1989 which aims to promote sustainable economic growth and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.


The APEC member countries are Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Thailand, United States, and Vietnam.

CNN Philippines Senior Correspondent Ina Andolong, and Digital Producers Chad de Guzman and Pia Garcia contributed to this report.