By Genalyn Kabiling
Pursuing the swift conclusion of the South China Sea code of conduct (COC) will be part of the agenda of President Duterte during his upcoming visit to China, apart from the tackling the landmark arbitral ruling and the joint oil exploration project.
The President said he would press for the early crafting of the code of conduct to reduce tension and minimize the risk of incidents and miscalculation amid concerns about the delay apparently caused by China in the negotiations.
“I said that’s why I’m going there. They are delaying it and it’s causing so many incidents and one day it will — one mistake, a miscalculation there and mahirap na bawian ‘yun,” Duterte said in an interview with reporters at the Palace.
Asked who was delaying the crafting of the COC, Duterte said: “It could be China. Nobody else is asking us to wait.”
Duterte explained that he wanted a code of conduct in the disputed territory, saying he does not want “trouble” for the Philippines.
“Bakit wala pa ‘yung — matagal eh, ‘yung code of conduct [Why is it taking so long? The code of conduct]. It’s becoming a very big issue. I do not want trouble for my country but whether we like it or not, however, on which side you are, it would not be good for my country to be in a state of violence,” he said.
The President is scheduled to embark on his fifth visit to China this month, that includes bilateral talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. He earlier confirmed he would raise the arbitral ruling that nullified China’s nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea in his meeting with Xi.
Duterte’s latest push for the SCS code of conduct comes following the Recto Bank allision involving a Chinese boat and a Filipino fishing vessel.
In 2017, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China agreed on the framework of the long-mooted code of conduct to prevent the escalation of tension in the disputed waterway. The negotiations for the final COC are still ongoing.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea and has stepped up reclamation works in the area in recent years drawing protests from other claimant nations. Four ASEAN members namely the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam, also have claims in the area.
In his upcoming visit to China, the President said he would discuss the arbitral award as well as the proposed exploitation of the marine resources in the South China Sea.
“I’d talk about the arbitral ruling itself, then the code of conduct and ‘yung mga marine resources. Let us first be sure that we have the access and I’m most interested in the exploitation of the natural resources,” he said.
“If it’s without touching on the validity of who’s the real owner, takes time, we can start the talks. But I’m most interested in the extraction of the natural resources,” he said.
Duterte said he was amenable to the proposed 60-40 sharing of resources in favor of the Philippines.
“They have proposed a 60-40. Okay na ‘yan para sa akin. But that could be a later topic if we have time,” he said about the planned joint oil exploration with China.
Duterte also explained that it was “about time” to talk about the South China Sea arbitral award since he only have three years left in office.
He stood firm that the country owns the West Philippine Sea, and does not accept China’s sweeping claims in the territory.
“We cannot accept that. We are not allowed to accept that China owns it because of the arbitral ruling,” he said.
“And even before, we were claiming it. Pag-asa has been there for 74 years. That’s — 1974 rather. We already claimed Pagasa and occupied. That’s why there’s a base there,” he added.
Asked if Xi warns him again of trouble if he insists on the arbitral ruling, the President said: “Then I will think about it. I will just keep it to myself first because at that stage nothing would really be a very significant development.”
“But once we have set the agenda, I talked first about jurisdiction, the CoC, and the exploitation of the natural resources of my country since as far as I’m concerned, we own it. So that is my position. We still own what we are claiming,” he said.