By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has praised President Rodrigo Duterte for his stance on the South China Sea issue and for how the government handled the recently-concluded war in Marawi City against Daesh-inspired terrorists.
The two leaders met late Sunday and discussed the maritime dispute over the South China Sea after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) 50th Anniversary Special Gala dinner Duterte hosted for 20 other world delegates.
Duterte said the South China Sea issue is better left untouched to avoid conflict among claimant nations which include Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
“The South China Sea is better left untouched. It can ill afford a violent confrontation. We don’t have the luxury of war and violence,” Duterte said in his speech during the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit.
The President’s remarks were different from his stand last week when he said he will raise the issue during the APEC Summit but as chairman of the ASEAN and not as Philippine President. This, Duterte told Turnbull, took Xi by surprise.
Duterte proceeded to share with Turnbull how his bilateral talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping went during the sidelines of the 2017 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Da Nang, Vietnam Saturday.
“I had to do it because the Philippines chairs the ASEAN now. I cannot escape that from my duty so I have every right to ask him. But I explained it to him in a very nice way,” Duterte said.
However, Duterte said Xi downplayed the concerns raised by the ASEAN about the militarization in the disputed waters and assured Duterte that everybody has the right to safe passage along the South China Sea.
Duterte noted that Xi understood where he was coming from. He recalls Xi telling him: “‘If you are President Duterte and you want to preserve the lives of Filipinos, then as President of China, I want to save lives.'”
“‘I do not want to waste the lives of my countrymen over a useless war that cannot be won by anybody,'” Xi reportedly told Duterte, referring to any conflict that could arise out of the South China Sea dispute.
Xi will not be able to participate in the 31st ASEAN-East Asia Summit in Manila. China, one of the dialogue partners, is being represented by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
In the meeting with Turnbull, Duterte assured the Prime Minister that relations with Australia remain strong and pledged cooperation in their alliances.
Malacañang said Duterte and Turnbull also discussed the crafting of a binding code of conduct to solve the maritime dispute, extremism, illegal drugs as well as trade and commerce during the meeting.
“Sea piracy in the Sulu Sea was also tackled with both leaders promising greater security cooperation,” Malacañang said in a statement.
“They also talked about regional trade, with the Australian leader mentioning his country’s huge potential especially because of its enormous market,” the Palace statement furthered.
It was earlier reported that, aside from the issue on the South China Sea, Turnbull aims to discuss North Korea’s nuclear warfare and Islamist terrorism as threats to regional stability.
Australia was one of the countries–not claimants in the South China Sea dispute–which called for a peaceful resolution on the maritime dispute.
Last August, Australia, along with Japan and the United States, voiced their strong opposition to coercive unilateral actions that could “alter the status quo and increase tensions.”
The three countries urged both China and the Philippines to abide by last year’s international arbitration ruling which invalidated China’s claim to almost the entire South China Sea.
So far, Duterte has skirted the issue of the maritime dispute but assured that he will raise the issue with China when the right time comes.
Talks with Bolkiah
Meanwhile, Duterte thanked Brunei Darussalam Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah for hosting a number of Filipinos in Brunei and treating them as their own.
During their meeting before the ASEAN Gala dinner, Duterte praised Bolkiah for his “extraordinary service to humanity” especially when the Philippines was struck by disasters.
Duterte attended the golden jubilee celebration of Bolkiah’s accession to the throne in Brunei Darussalam last month.
At the meeting with Bolkiah, Duterte pledged to help fellow ASEAN countries in distress, particularly regarding threats of terrorism and the security concerns in the Korean Peninsula.
“It must be resolved through dialogue and must not affect the lives of people in the neighboring countries,” he said.
He also noted that China holds the key in resolving the rising tension in the Korean Peninsula.
Tags: Australia PM Duterte discuss South China Sea, Brunei Darussalam Hassanal Bolkiah, China, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Manila Bulletin, maritime dispute, President Duterte, President of China, PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO, Rodrigo Duterte, South China Sea