PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte will clarify China’s intentions on the West Philippine Sea, which within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, his spokesman said on Saturday.
Secretary Harry Roque made the announcement ahead of President Duterte’s bilateral meeting with China’s President Xi Jin Ping at about 6 p.m. or after the conclusion of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Danang, Vietnam.
“In his meeting with Xi Jin Ping, the President has already said that there was a need for China to clarify its intentions in the West Philippine Sea and the issue of freedom of navigation [there]. I am sure he will pursue this issue [with the Chinese President],” Roque said.
“This issue is relevant not only for the Philippines, but also for other claimants in the Asean. As the Chairman of the Asean, President Duterte is duty-bound to raise the issue,” Roque added.
The Philippines has won a case against China on July 2016 when the Hague-based United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) junked China’s nine-dash line defense of its claim of the entire South China Sea and instead declared that the Spratly Islands, Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Recto (Reed) Bank were all within the country’s 200-nautical mile off shore exclusive economic zone.
The July 2016 PCA ruling also stated that the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) was a common fishing ground, which meant that Chinese vessels could not stop Filipinos from fishing there.
President Duterte, however, has expressed willingness to conduct joint exploration activities with China over the West Philippine Sea islands and waters.
A joint exploration within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines would violate its Constitution, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas and the landmark UN Tribunal ruling, according to experts.
Roque, however, clarified that President Duterte’s “leaning” toward China and even Russia was not tantamount to waging war against the United States, which has advocated freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
“The President has made moves in the context of pursuing an independent foreign policy. The President will not get us involved in a war between superpowers,” Roque added.