Duterte: Who will dare put pressure on China?

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Philippine president says it is pointless to discuss South China Sea at Asean meet

MANILA Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday said it is pointless discussing Beijing's contentious activities in the South China Sea at this week's summit of South-east Asian leaders, and no one dares pressure China anyway.

He scoffed at questions from reporters about whether China's rapid reclamation of uninhabited reefs or an international arbitration ruling last year would be brought up with Asean leaders tomorrow.

"Who will dare pressure? Who can pressure China? Us?" he told reporters at the presidential palace after meeting his counterpart from Brunei, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.

The Philippines is hosting meetings of Asean this year.

The bloc will adopt a softer than usual tone about the South China Sea disputes and exclude references to militarisation or island-building, according to a draft of the chairman's statement.

The statement would be a watered-down version of that issued last year and comes amid a charm offensive by Mr Duterte, who has opted to court China for its business and investment and avoid rows over sovereignty.

Mr Duterte has been accused by members of the previous administration of taking a defeatist position on China and on defending Philippines sovereignty.

In 2013, his predecessors filed a case with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague to set the record straight on maritime boundaries.

The tribunal did that last year and invalidated China's claim to sovereignty over most of the strategic waterway.

Mr Duterte, who has put the ruling on the back burner and said he will revisit it later in his term, said it was a waste of time for Asean to discuss that award now, and it is not relevant.

"Arbitral is simply entitlement. It is not even a territorial thing. The only question at arbitral was entitlement, not jurisdiction, not even territory," he said.

"How will you raise the issue? ... We cannot on our own enforce the arbitral judgment."


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