Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte plans to meet his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to discuss a 2016 arbitration case over the South China Sea as domestic pressure grows on him to stand up to Beijing.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague handed Manila a legal victory three years ago by rejecting Beijing’s claims to economic rights across large swaths of the South China Sea.
But political opponents and critics have accused Duterte of turning his back on his country by setting aside the case and gambling the Philippines’ territorial integrity to “appease” his newfound ally, China.
That ruling made clear numerous Philippines maritime entitlements under international law and effectively invalidated China’s controversial nine-dash line claim to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea.
Salvador Panelo, a presidential spokesperson, said Duterte would raise the issue when he holds fresh talks with Xi.
“Remember that I said before that there will be a time when I will invoke that arbitral ruling?,” Panelo told a press briefing in Manila, quoting Duterte. “‘This is the time. That’s why I am going there’ – that’s what he said.”
Panelo did not give a date for Duterte’s planned trip to China but said it was likely before the end of the month.
Panelo also said Duterte was interested in furthering discussions about jointly exploring “60-40” for offshore energy reserves inside the Philippines Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
The EEZ is considered to be part of the Philippines’ territory, with its resources “exclusively” reserved for Filipinos, according to its constitution.
Duterte has long maintained that he will not risk going to war with China, by aggressively pressing Beijing about Manila’s territorial claim.
Although he has stood by China and defended his policy of rapprochement and non-confrontation, his defence officials have spoken out.
Two diplomatic protests have been filed, the first over what the Philippines said was a recent “swarming” of more than 100 Chinese fishing boats near a tiny Philippine-occupied island.
The other was about an unannounced passage in July of five Chinese warships through the Philippines’ 19km territorial sea, which Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said was “a failure to observe protocol or common courtesy”.
Despite Duterte’s huge popularity and polls consistently delivering an approval rating of 80 percent and over, the same surveys have shown Filipinos have little trust in China and want their government to stand up to perceived maritime bullying.