MANILA—President Duterte on Monday pressed China for the finalization of a code of conduct in the South China Sea to prevent the escalation of tension in the disputed waters.
“China should by now be ready with the code of conduct because the longer it takes for them to do it the more they are egging, titillating America and the rest of the Western powers to test the waters always and 1 day a single miscalculation,” Duterte said.
“It could be a silent irritation but if it explodes, the consequences are really terrible, it should not be acceptable to anybody,” he added.
Duterte earlier said that the Philippines, as country coordinator for ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations, would continue to work together with ASEAN member-states “for the full and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.”
He expressed “grave concern” over the disputed South China Sea at an ASEAN summit meeting in Bangkok over the weekend, the presidential office has said.
It is rare for the president to express concern over South China Sea affairs at such a venue as he has pursued a pro-China policy and set aside territorial disputes with China in exchange for economic cooperation since coming to power in 2016.
Duterte’s remarks did not mention China, but they come on the heels of the sinking June 9 of a Philippine fishing boat after a collision with a Chinese fishing vessel near Reed Bank in the South China Sea. The boat’s 22 Filipino crew were left in the water until they were rescued by a Vietnamese fishing vessel.
In the statement issued Sunday night after the gathering of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, his office said the president “expressed grave concern over activities in the South China Sea that erode the trust and confidence, and undermine peace, security and stability in the region.”
China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea where ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as Taiwan, also have territorial claims.
At the meeting, Duterte also expressed “concern and disappointment” over delays in negotiations for a code of conduct among claimants in the sea, according to a presidential spokesman.
The president urged ASEAN and China, which are seeking to set the code to avoid conflicts, to act quickly to finish it, saying that “the faster we finish the process, the more credible ASEAN and China will be as partners for security and stability,” the statement says.
The Philippines and China have overlapping claims in the South China Sea, where China has reclaimed land and airstrips and other military facilities.