By Roy Mabasa
Beijing’s position on the South China Sea arbitration ruling “has not changed a bit” even if President Rodrigo Duterte intends to raise the issue when he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his official visit to Beijing this week.
“First of all, China’s position on the South China Sea arbitration has not changed a bit. Facts have proven that if we handle this issue properly, it will be good for regional peace and stability,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang said in a press briefing in the Chinese capital over the weekend.
China has refused to honor the ruling handed down by the United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on July 12, 2016 in favor of the Philippine petition to invalidate Beijing’s expansive nine-dash-line claim in the South China Sea.
Duterte, earlier, said nothing can stop him from raising the arbitral ruling with his Chinese counterpart and nobody could control what he would say.
“If I’m not allowed as a President of a sovereign nation to talk whatever I want to talk about, then let us not rather talk altogether. No. Do not control my mouth because that is a gift from God,” he said.
Duterte will be in China from August 28 to September 1 where he is scheduled to hold talks with President Xi in Beijing and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said Duterte will also meet with Vice President Wang Qishan who will accompany him to the FIBA World Cup in Guangdong to watch the Gilas Pilipinas basketball team will be facing Italy.
In his statement, Geng stressed that the Philippines was China’s “friendly neighbor”, and important partner for its Belt and Road Initiative.
“Since President Duterte took office, China-Philippines relations have been consolidated and deepened. We worked to seek synergies between the BRI and the “Build, Build, Build” Program, reaping fruitful results in practical cooperation,” he said.
Geng said they believed that Duterte’s upcoming visit “will inject fresh impetus” into the continued sound development of China-Philippines relations.
“China attaches high importance to relations with the Philippines. We would like to further strengthen strategic mutual trust and expand practical cooperation to ensure steady and sustained progress in this relationship,” he added.
When asked about the unauthorized passages of Chinese military ships in Philippine territorial waters, Geng said Beijing is ready to conduct a dialogue with the relevant country “based on international law to jointly safeguard maritime security and order.”