BEIJING—President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday ruled out all joint military exercises with any superpower, be it the United States, China or Russia, to avoid further provocations in the South China Sea.
Speaking to Filipino journalists, Duterte maintained that there won’t be any deals on joint exploration or fishing rights in the South China Sea during his four-day state visit to China.
“There will be no military alliances brought in. I am just saying that we are not interested in adding fuel in what is already a volatile world,” Duterte said.
His latest statements seemed at odds with what he told Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television about being open to joint military exercises with China and Russia.
Asked if he would consider joint military exercises with the two countries, Duterte said: “Yes, I will. I have given enough time for the Americans to play with the Filipino soldiers.”
Duterte also repeated his vow to no longer participate in joint military exercises with the United States, the Philippines’ main defense ally and supplier of military hardware.
In the same interview, Duterte also denied newspaper reports that the Philippines is set to enter into a deal with China to jointly explore energy sources in the uncontested areas in the West Philippine Sea, working to find oil or natural gas in what is also known internationally as the South China Sea.
“No, I do not think it would be right,” Duterte said. “If you plan to give up and share what you have, then you cannot talk about it all along. At this time I am not in power to do that,” he said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. also played down reports of joint exploration.
“We are not talking about joint exploration. This is not the right time to talk about joint exploration. We are just simply talking about how we can improve our ties with China without eroding or compromising our disputes, which is just a small portion of our relationship with China in regards with the South China Sea,” Yasay said.
On Sunday while on a state visit to Brunei, Duterte said he would raise the controversial arbitral ruling on the South China Sea with China’s leaders and vowed not to surrender any sovereignty or deviate from the July award by the tribunal in The Hague.
Duterte has not pressed Beijing over the tribunal’s ruling, apparently seeking to use that verdict as leverage with which to extract concessions from Beijing.
Instead of raising the issue, the President said that he would be asking Xi Jinping and the Chinese government for fishing rights of Filipino fishermen “in passing.”
“I will mention it in passing. Its very important because it’s livelihood. We will not look hard on who owns what because that is contested,” he added.
Duterte, who sought to cool off the icy relations with Beijing after an arbitral ruling in favor of the Philippines, maintained he will just focus on exploring economic cooperation with China instead.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry also emphasized the economic aspect of Duterte’s visit.
In another chance interview, Yasay said he had advised the President to “proceed with caution” in talking about the West Philippine Sea.
Yasay also emphasized that the President will focus on economic and trade deals.
“If you’re asking me about the trip to China, this is it. We are taking advantage of the opportunity of making sure that the other aspects of our relationship with our neighbor China will be pursued. This is the reason why we’re here. In the past, there has been a weakening of this relationship but now we see that there are opportunities that are being brought by our President’s call to make sure that we renew ties with our neighbors. And this is what we are doing,” Yasay said.
“We are not expecting alliances in terms of anything that others may have suggested, no. We are just treating our friends in an equal manner in carrying out our independent foreign policy,” he said.
A senior business official on Wednesday said the Philippines can tap into more than $3 billion in loan facilities offered by Bank of China to bankroll infrastructure and support for micro, small and medium enterprises once an agreement on China’s Silk Road Initiative has been reached.
“You see today we start talking about the Silk Road and its a very, very big name,” Philippine Silkroad International Chamber President Francis Chua said in an interview.
On Tuesday, President Rodrigo Duterte said that he wanted Manila to join Beijing’s proposed Belt and Road Initiative to make up for the country’s lack of funding for much-needed infrastructure.
Duterte likewise said that rapid development was hard to accomplish for any country without railways, and hoped China could offer soft loans to build them.
“There are so many things in my country which I would like to implement, but [cannot] for [the] lack of the capital stock,” Duterte said.
“If we can have the things you have given to other countries by the way of assistance, we’d also like to be a part of it and to be a part of the greater plans of China about the whole of Asia, particularly Southeast Asia.”
China’s most ambitious foreign policy initiative, the Belt and Road refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road launched by the Chinese President Xi Jinping to promote economic cooperation among countries along the proposed Belt and Road routes.
The strategy underlines China’s push to take a bigger role in global affairs, and its need for cooperation in areas such as steel and manufacturing.
Duterte is scheduled to meet top leaders including President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.
“Only China can help us,” he told the official Xinhua news agency Monday.
He was due to meet members of the Filipino community in Beijing later Wednesday.
The Philippines is hoping, among other things, that Beijing will repeal a ban on imports of its bananas -- an economic sanction intended to punish Manila for its South China Sea stance.
The Philippines is one of several coastal nations which dispute China’s claims to virtually all of the strategically vital waters. It has been a key player in the dispute, which is an issue of intense interest in both Washington and Beijing.
Tensions have risen between the US and China over Washington’s “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific, a move which Beijing says is intended to contain its rise.
Duterte has said his trip will focus on promoting economic ties. Foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose has said: “There will be a lot, I mean a lot, of business contracts that will be signed.”
In an editorial Tuesday, China’s nationalistic Global Times newspaper called on the government to “reciprocate Duterte’s overture” by giving the Philippines access to fishing grounds near Scarborough Shoal -- a move which would imply that such rights were China’s to give.
“Filipino fishermen fish on a shoestring and are unlikely to jeopardize the ecosystem of China’s waters,” the paper said.
China took control of the shoal in 2012 after a standoff with the Philippine Navy. Manila has long claimed the feature for itself, maintaining that it controls the area’s fishing rights.
China itself has been accused of doing massive environmental damage to the South China Sea by building artificial islands, some with airstrips, capable of hosting military facilities.
In another editorial Wednesday, the Global Times said Washington had treated Manila “as a pawn” and Duterte was “redesigning Philippine foreign policy based on Philippine interests”.
Beijing has also enthusiastically endorsed Duterte’s war on drugs, which has seen more than 3,700 people killed and led the International Criminal Court to warn that those responsible could face charges.
China, which has frequently been criticised for its own approach to drug users, “is his best partner in the anti-drug fight”, the Global Times wrote. With AFP
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