PRESIDENT-apparent Rodrigo Duterte met with Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua in Davao City on Monday afternoon, a day after he said he was open to bilateral talks with Beijing over the territorial row in the West Philippine Sea.
“We had a very good conversation,” Zhao said. “The Chinese side is looking forward [to work with] him and his team to further enhance our bilateral relationship.”
The envoy, who was assigned to the country in 2014 when tension between Manila and Beijing was escalating, did not reply when asked if the matter of the West Philippine Sea was discussed.
Zhao only said he congratulated Duterte on his electoral victory and expressed China’s expectation of working with the Philippine government to “properly deal with the differences, deepen traditional friendship and promote mutually beneficial cooperation, so as to bring the bilateral ties forward.”
He stressed that China and the Philippines are good neighbors and quoted Duterte as saying he is willing to improve and develop China-Philippines relations and strengthen bilateral cooperation to benefit peoples of both countries.
Duterte reiterated what he had already said in Davao on Sunday when he told journalists he wanted friendly relations with China and confirmed he was open to direct talks over a territorial row that has badly damaged bilateral ties.
“Well, ties have never been cold. But I would rather be friendly with everybody,” Duterte said.
Relations between China and the Philippines worsened sharply throughout Aquino’s six-year term over conflicting claims to parts of the South China Sea, one of the world’s most strategically important waterways.
Duterte, who will be sworn into office on June 30, said he planned to continue raising the issue in multilateral environments, bit also stressed he would hold direct talks with China, if other negotiations failed.
“If the ship of negotiation is in still waters and there’s no wind to push the sail, I might just decide to talk bilaterally with China,” Duterte said.
But Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, whom Duterte accused of “selling” Scarborough Shoal to China, warned that Duterte may be impeached if he keeps on saying that the Philippine has already lost its claim to Scarborough Shoal.
“I hope he won’t do that because as President, it would be dangerous if he says we already lost our claims over the island although we have not lost it yet. Now, it seems like he is giving China the license to occupy the area then he will blame President Aquino and me,” said Trillanes.
“If he does that, that’s an impeachable offense. If he assumes office on on June 30 and he says we have lost Scarborough, that’s already a basis for an impeachment complaint,” Trillanes said.
He belied Duterte’s pronouncement that the Philippines had already lost Scarborough Shoal and that matter had already been taken up in at least two committee hearings in the Senate.
Trillanes provided the media transcripts of their hearings on October 30, 2013 and on May 7, 2015, which showed that defense and security officials repeatedly testified that the country has not lost Scarborough Shoal.
Trillanes maintained Scarborough still belongs to the Philippines, and it was even the main subject of our arbitration complaint.
“We still have our fishing vessels inside (Scarborough). No reclamation was done in the said area,” also said Trillanes who pursued talks with China in 2012 against the advise of the country’s top diplomats.
But Trillanes, who has remained silent about details of his talks with China, said his role only was to diffuse tension between the Philippines and China and the talks never covered sovereignty issues.
While the remarks of Duterte about the Philippines losing Scarborough to China came out in the media, no defense official was quoted as the source of this information.
“It’s very dangerous for a presumptive President-elect like Mayor Duterte to say that we lost Scarborough. Who was the defense official whom we can quote here? This came out in the media. No defense official was quoted,” said Trillanes.
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