MANILA, Philippines—Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told China’s ambassador Monday that he will not immediately press Beijing to comply with an international tribunal’s ruling that invalidated Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea, but would do so in the future.
Duterte made the comments in a speech marking Philippine heroes’ day that was attended by Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua and other diplomats. Zhao was apparently surprised by the remarks and just smiled in response.
China avoids discussion of its territorial disputes in the presence of other governments.
Duterte said pressing China to comply now might result in the suspension of talks between the two countries, which would not be good.
“I will not use the arbitral judgment now, but I would one day sit in front of your representative or you and then I will lay bare my position,” Duterte said, addressing his remarks to Zhao.
Duterte has said he will also not raise the arbitration decision at an annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Laos next week, although he might discuss the issue if other leaders bring it up.
The tribunal ruled in July that China’s extensive territorial claims, which overlap those of the Philippines and four other governments, are invalid under a 1982 U.N. treaty, in a major setback for Beijing. China has ignored the decision and refused to hold any talks with the Philippines based on the ruling.
Duterte added in jest that if the Philippines had as many ships as Beijing, he might consider a more forceful action.
Philippine acquiescence to talks that would not directly take up the arbitration decision would allow Duterte’s government to discuss pressing issues such as asking China to allow Filipino fishermen to regain access to disputed Scarborough Shoal, which Beijing effectively seized in 2012. Chinese coast guard ships have been blocking Filipino fishermen from the rich fishing area.
“I hope that you treat us as your brothers, not your enemies, and take note of the plight of our citizens,” Duterte told Zhao.