Philippine President Rodrigo on Tuesday, October 31 said he is counting on China to keep its promise not to build structures in a bid to occupy parts of the disputed South China Sea.
Speaking to reporters upon his arrival in Davao from a two-day official visit in Japan, Duterte expressed optimism that China is seeking a peaceful resolution to the dispute as well.
“China has put it on record, that near the Pag-asa, where we also have our bay there, the Scarborough islands, China has committed to us not to build anything there and I hope that they would honor that commitment to us,” the president said.
Also referred to as Tithu Island, Pag-asa Island is located 480 kilometers off the coast of Palawan. It is the largest Philippine-controlled island among the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) in the disputed Spratlys region.
Duterte in August claimed that China told him they were not building anything on Sandy Cay — which was near the Pag-asa island — amid the reported presence of Chinese vessels in the area.
In February, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. also said that China has promised the Philippine government that it would not build structures on the Scarborough Shoal, which is located 230 (140 miles) kilometers west of Zambales.
Asked if China will decide to not honor its promise, Duterte said the question should be answered by the Chinese government and not him.
“It’s not for me to say. It’s them. That question should be answered by them. Not by me. Klaro na ako dito. Wala naman akong inagaw, basta ito akin (I’m clear with this. I did not take away anything, because this is mine),” he said.
In a separate statement, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said Manila and Beijing “have reached important consensus on managing differences on maritime affairs and the cooperation in various fields progressed smoothly.”
Beijing also expressed confidence in maintaining and improving its relationship with Manila, as Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping “have established very smooth and effective channels of communication and dialogue.”
On Thursday, November 2, Hua said the country is “fully confident” about China-Philippines relations.
“We stand ready to continue to maintain close communication with the Philippine government under the leadership of President Duterte for stronger across-the-board cooperation and healthy development of China-Philippine relations,” she added.
In July 2016, the arbitration tribunal at The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines and concluded that China’s massive claim of sovereignty over the South China Sea had no legal basis. The Chinese government, however, refused to acknowledge the ruling.
Duterte opted to set aside the ruling “for now” amid efforts to build a stronger relationship with China and a more peaceful resolution to the dispute, but assured that the Philippines will continue to assert its territorial claims.