Duterte presses Xi to fast-track South China Sea rules


TOKYO — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday called on Chinese President Xi Jinping to hammer out a code of conduct for the South China Sea, warning the disputed waterway is increasingly becoming a potential “flashpoint” for conflict.

Duterte went off script in a speech at Nikkei’s Future of Asia conference to vent frustration over tensions in the sea. Beijing claims large portions of waters that the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam insist are rightfully theirs.

“I love China,” Duterte said. “It has helped us, but it behooves upon us to ask: Is it right for a country to claim the whole ocean?”

China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are in the process of crafting a maritime code, in an effort to manage the tensions and avoid an armed clash. Duterte said the code could be finished within two years, but some diplomats in the region have previously accused China of delaying the effort.

“I am sad and bewildered — not angry — because I cannot do anything,” Duterte said. “But I just hope China would come up with a [code] soon and somebody should reach out to the U.S., because if you leave it to them to talk, nothing will happen.”

The U.S., France and the U.K. have all challenged China’s claims by sending ships through the South China Sea, drawing Beijing’s ire. Duterte said that “the longer it takes” to agree on a code, the greater the chance the sea will become a “flashpoint for trouble.”