MANILA, Philippines—Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday he will insist on a ruling of an international arbitration that invalidated Beijing’s claims to most of the South China Sea if China starts to extract oil or gas from the area.
His statement in an interview with CNN Philippines Thursday was a departure from his earlier pronouncement that he would “set aside” the ruling because he does not want to impose on China.
Duterte also criticized the United States, saying it did not do anything when China started building artificial islands in the disputed sea.
Duterte, who took office in June, has taken steps to mend relations with China that grew hostile during the time of his predecessor over the long-unresolved territorial disputes. Former President Benigno Aquino III’s administration took the disputes to international arbitration in a move backed by Washington after China seized a disputed shoal from the Philippines in 2012, then went on to construct seven man-made islands despite outside objections.
China has refused to recognize the arbitration tribunal, saying it has no jurisdiction.
Asked under what circumstances he would bring up the tribunal ruling with China, Duterte said: “Yes, when the minerals are already being siphoned out.”
If that happens, he said, he will tell China: “I thought we’re friends? We share economic bounties … so how about us? I have this title, so what do you think? Don’t you think we should talk now?”
Duterte added that if China’s construction in the disputed waters was a serious concern then the United States should have led the way and stopped it “right at the beginning, when the first spade of soil was tossed out to the area that was being reclaimed.”
“Why raise an issue putting the countries into distress or under stress when you are not going to do anything, when it is you who have the arms?” he added.
China is pitted against smaller neighbours including the Philippines in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves.
The U.S. says it is not taking sides in the disputes but insists on freedom of navigation in international waters and is against coercion by any side against the other.