Ahead of possible meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping at APEC summit, President Rodrigo Duterte said he will question China if it plans to control the South China Sea amidst reports that the country continues to construct facilities in some of the disputed islands.
“I do not take it against China. But what are the stakes? Do you want control of the passage?” Duterte said in a press briefing at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) before leaving for Vietnam to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.
Duterte and Xi is set to hold bilateral talks on the sidelines of the APEC summit.
The president added that during the meeting with Xi, he would be frank and will assert the country’s rights in discoursing over the maritime dispute.
Duterte also said that the Philippines and China are “friends”, however, he said China’s plans should be clear as these could affect the country and the entire region.
“We are friends with China. May utang na loob tayo [We have a debt of gratitude]. At one moment in our life or the lives of the Filipinos, they were there to give us the arms when we had none and we were fighting it out in Marawi,” Duterte added.
“It’s about time that ASEAN countries, not really to confront, but to make clear to us what China really wants,” he also said.
Although the president pointed out that it not good to confront China over the nautical conflict, he said he wants those questions answered “for the sake of my country and the others who have overlapping claims.”
“The truth is, if I could only confront China or if it is China alone – that’s the problem. But I said, there are contesting countries which have overlapping jurisdictions,” the President said.
Duterte repeated that if he will engage China, he will have to engage all the other claimants in the disputed waters.
“And if I engage China now, I will have to engage the five others. It would be something like a scramble there because if China concedes to one, Philippines, it has to concede to the others,” Duterte said.
“And what will now happen to our general claim of being the economic zone belonging to my country? That’s a problem,” he added.
Yet, Duterte believed that the issue should be raised in bilateral meetings at a regional assembly.
“I should be bringing this important matter to the surface,” the President said.