By Genalyn Kabiling
BEIJING – The meeting here between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was the best among all bilateral talks between the two leaders for being “very frank, substantive, and productive.”
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. on Saturday said President Duterte was “very firm in taking care of our national interest” when he tackled the West Philippine Sea (WPS) concerns, including the arbitral ruling nullifying China’s claims in the disputed territory, during his meeting with President Xi last Thursday.
Esperon said the President’s discussion with Xi on the WPS was “very frank,” “very substantive,” and “very productive.”
“This is the best bilateral that the President has had so far with President Xi Jinping. There were things that he said that I thought he would not say,” he said.
“The arbitral ruling was mentioned. He said that ‘I will bring up the arbitral ruling in another two years’ but by saying so, what message was he putting across,” he said.
Esperon declined to comment about Xi’s response to Dutete’s statement about the arbitral ruling, saying he was not authorized to speak for the Chinese leader.
The Duterte-Xi meeting ended in a positive note.
“We were at the end of the bilaterals already so you could expect that instead of going into some differences, it should end with amity, cooperation, and readiness to further develop the good things,” he said.
Esperon insisted that waging war should be the “last resort” amid a lingering dispute between the Philippines and China on the WPS.
Even as the country continues to assert its rights over the territory, Esperon maintained that the Philippines’ relations with China “do not start and end” with the South China Sea issue.
“The stationing of our forces in our islands there is simply an assertion of our territorial rights,” Esperon said in an interview with reporters in Beijing.
“We keep to our positions. If they keep to their positions let it be, but let us continue and even improve on things that we are doing together. It’s not all war. In fact, that should be the last resort,” he added.
As the two nations try to settle the territorial row through bilateral dialogue, Esperon noted that the two countries could further strengthen other areas of cooperation such as trade, investments, and tourism. He pointed out that there was no need to be “fixated” on the dispute.
“It should not really be centered on Pag-asa (Island). After all, the relation between the China and Philippines does not start and end in the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea. What do we have? Trade, economic relations, cultural, people-to-people tourism, ang dami nating activities so why be fixated on an island?” he said.
“It’s precious to us and so we have our detachment there of a mix force of Air Force, Marines, and even Army, so we take care of that and we are repairing our airstrip there,” he added.