Duterte, Xi favor bilateral deal on sea dispute



PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte frowns upon a “multilateral approach” to resolve the South China Sea dispute and will push for a deal with another claimant country, his spokesman said last week.

Both Mr. Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping think involving other claimant-countries or a third party such as the United Nations won’t resolve the issue, presidential spokesman Salvador S. Panelo said in an interview. “Maybe they don’t believe in a multilateral approach.”

Aside from the Philippines and China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also claim parts of the South China Sea, where about $3.37 trillion worth of global trade passes through annually.

Mr. Duterte has said Mr. Xi had told him that if he ignored the 2016 United Nations ruling favoring the Philippines, China would agree to be the junior partner in a joint venture to develop gas deposits at the Reed Bank, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The tribunal in The Hague clarified maritime boundaries and the Philippines’ sovereign entitlements, and in doing so, invalidated China’s claims to almost the entire South China Sea. China has rejected the ruling.

Mr. Duterte has sought to befriend Mr. Xi, hoping to secure billions of dollars of investments. He has avoided challenging China over its reclamation activities in the South China Sea, including its militarized artificial islands.

The decision came after the Philippines under then President Benigno S.C. Aquino III sued China before the international court.

Mr. Panelo said Mr. Duterte had not agreed to drop the Philippine claim, noting that the arbitral ruling is still subject to peaceful talks.

Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, senior research fellow at the Ateneo de Manila University Policy Center, has said China’s rejection of the arbitral ruling would never change. The Philippine government should have a clear and viable plan of action, including the multilateral approach, he added.

Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria C. Sison also offered actions for the government to assert Manila’s claim to the South China Sea.

As a patriot, Mr. Duterte can assert that the arbitration ruling be brought before the United Nations and other international agencies to compel China to comply with it.

The Philippines should also demand for China to dismantle its military facilities and withdraw its armed forces and fleet of fishing boats from the disputed waterway, he said in an earlier statement.

Mr. Sison also said the government can demand payment for damages caused by China’s land reclamation and overfishing.

The UN court in 2016 said the Philippines had legal rights to exploit gas deposits that China also claims at the Reed Bank, about 85 miles (140 kilometers) off the Philippine coast.

The Philippines’ only accessible gas resources at the Malampaya fields will run out by 2024. A joint project with China has been talked about for decades, but has gone nowhere due to the competing claims.

Joint activity could be deemed as legitimizing the other side’s claim, or even relinquishing sovereign rights

Duterte, Xi favor bilateral deal on sea dispute