(Eagle News) — Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte expressed his frustration regarding the South China Sea during his keynote address on the “25th International Conference on the Future of Asia” conference in Tokyo on Friday, May 31, as he pushed for binding guidelines that could prevent tensions in the volatile region.
“We are friends with China. I am the moderator country for China and the ASEAN. And the last thing I heard was that the conduct of the sea is just about two years away. I would not want to impose my own — it would be my last word — but if I get to get a chance to visit Beijing again, I’ll try to talk to President Xi Jinping,” the 74-year old Philippine leader said.
Duterte stressed the importance of coming out soon with a peaceful solution to the disputes in the South China Sea as he noted that the area was “a flashpoint for trouble.”
“And the longer it takes for the issue to be there it is always a flashpoint for trouble. And not only that because of the absence of the conduct of the sea, France, Britain, America are testing the waters. This is not a testing of waters of temperature, my God. It is really testing who can fire the first shot. And I am sad and bewildered not angry because I cannot do anything,” he said during the conference organized by NIkkei.
“But I just hope that China would come up with conduct of the sea soon and somebody should reach out to the United States. Because if you leave it to them to talk, nothing will happen. There is so much animosity covered by sweet-talking about how they desire to have an agreement. But nobody is pushing and the intrusions as far as China is concerned it’s in their waters,” President Duterte said.
Duterte then candidly posed a very important question to the delegation regarding China’s over-arching claim to the whole South China Sea.
Duterte: “Is it right for a country to claim the whole ocean?” –
“I love China it has helped us a bit. But it behooves upon us to ask: Is it right for a country to claim the whole ocean? Only just leave the high seas as it was during the old days of international law. We have about three, then it was extended to 12, and we have the economic zones,” he said during the conference organized by Asian leaders.
Duterte stressed that there should be an agreement on the South China Sea and urged a “ministerial level” talk that would “prod China” to agree on the common guidelines that would prevent increased conflict in the region.
“And so before anything else it would do as well maybe on a higher ministerial level to talk about this and try to prod China to come out soon to shorten the possibility to make sure that the law of averages is reduced to the barest minimum,” he said.
“If it is like fighting can erupt it 25 percent maybe we can reduce it to 15.”
The 74-year old Philippine leader known for his frank speeches, diverged from his prepared speech to talk about possible solutions to the issue.
He said that there “has to be somebody not identified with any country that China does not like” to talk with China and the United States regarding the issue.
“Because there will never be a sort of an America and China talking surety about territories. It will just end up in a shouting match,” he said.
“China is a standing partner. That China Sea is part of the Republic of China. And so we give it. Why? Because they are there. And a lot of lousy politicians in my country would like to push me to arbitral ruling because we won,” he said.
But he pointed out China’s line regarding its claim to the whole South China Sea.
“China said ‘this is our land, this is our sea. Anyone who goes in there will just have to contend with us verbally and maybe with arms’,” Duterte said.
“My country is very small. It has progressed a little over the years, I do not know why. But I cannot afford a war with anybody, not only with China. And the moment I send out my marines beyond six kilometers, they will be — they will all be wiped out in one or two military strikes. We do not have that weapons. We need to buy but there are some priorities like food, education, hospitalization.
There’s never enough. So I cannot go into some sort of adventure to fight not my war but what the claimant precipitated by a geographical tension. And that is what it is,” he said.
The Philippine leader had to cut short his speech for a meeting with Japanese prime minister Abe Shinzo.
He praised how Japan has been “a reliable, responsive, and relevant partner.”
“We value Japan’s recipient-driven approach to cooperation and development. I am proud to note that our engagement with Japan is an exercise of responsible partnership. It is one that empowers rather than fosters dependency. It is underpinned by friendship and reconciliation, deepened through the years by mutual respect and understanding. This is the kind of relationship we seek with other countries, big or small.”