Duterte raised West Philippine Sea ‘irritants’ with Xi, Palace says



MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to resolve issues like the reported presence of Chinese vessels in Philippine waters through bilateral dialogue, the Palace said.

The two leaders met on the sidelines of the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing last week. It was their seventh time to meet.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Duterte told his Chinese counterpart that there have been “irritants” brought about by the 2016 arbitral ruling on the South China Sea dispute.

The ruling issued by The Hague-based tribunal three years ago invalidated Beijing’s nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea.

“They repeated their previous stands but what is more important is that the president said there have been irritants because of that ruling and both of them agree that the mechanism of bilateral relations will be used to resolve the conflict,” Panelo said in a press briefing Monday.

Panelo noted that the irritants that Duterte referred to were the reported presence of hundreds of Chinese ships near Pag-asa Island, as well as the alleged harassment of Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea.

“The fact that he (Xi) said ‘We will resolve that in bilateral negotiations’ means they are open,” the Malacañang mouthpiece said.

An earlier report from GMA News stated that Xi told Duterte that China does not recognize the July 2016 arbitral ruling.

Beijing has long refused to acknowledge the landmark ruling, insisting indisputable sovereingty over the South China Sea.

Philippine Ambassador to China Chito Sto. Romana also said that while Duterte raised the arbitral ruling, Xi maintained his country’s position. The two leaders, however, did not discuss specific details of the maritime row.

The Philippine government had protested the presence of Chinese ships in the vicinity of Pag-asa Island, as well as the harvesting of giant clams by Chinese vessels in the Scarborough Shoal.

Panelo said the government has yet to receive China’s official response to the Philippines’ protests.