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China’s ‘friendly’ warning: Explore oil in WPS and court trouble

Malacañang said Friday Chinese President Xi Jinping’s warning to President Rodrigo Duterte of “trouble” over oil exploration in the West Philippine Sea was “more of a friendly advice than a threat.”

Insisting that Manila and Beijing are “friends,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Xi was simply giving suggestions to Duterte to avoid tensions in the resource-filled waters.

“You know, when you’re friends and you give some suggestions, you are not dictating,” Panelo said, adding that the Chinese leader “personally admires our President.”

In other developments:

• The Office of the Solicitor General has asked the Supreme Court to keep Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio from participating in a case involving a writ of protection for the marine environment in the West Philippine Sea.

The high court is set to hear oral arguments on a petition seeking the issuance of a writ of kalikasan for Scarborough Shoal, Ayungin Shoal, and Panganiban Reef on July 2.

Filed by Palawan and Zambales fishermen, the petition accuses the government of neglecting its duty of enforcing Philippine environmental laws in those waters.

• The Palace on Friday said the landmark 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration serves as a “bargaining leverage” for Manila.

“We have a bargaining leverage. If we didn’t have that arbitral ruling, we can’t say, ‘What is the basis of your presence here?’ It’s not useless. The only problem now is the enforcement of the ruling,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said.

• The Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. said the ramming incident that sank a Filipino fishing boat off the Recto Bank last June 9 was no big deal for China.

“I think such was a big incident for the Philippines but not for China. Businessmen out there, I don’t think it is. They do not know anything about this,” said federation president Henry Bon Liong.

“It’s not a big issue for the Chinese press,” he added.

• In a radio interview, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said investments from China in the Philippines grew 20 times after President Duterte took a friendlier approach to Beijing.

Investments from China rose to about $1 billion during Duterte’s tenure, from just $50 million, Lopez told radio dzMM. The country has benefited from the “mutual respect” of the two leaders, he said.

In a speech after the oath-taking of Senator-elect Christopher Go on Thursday evening, the President recalled a conversation he had with Xi their first meeting in Beijing in October 2016.

The Chinese leader warned him that any plans to unilaterally explore the oil reserves in the disputed waterways would spark trouble.

“I told him, ‘I’m going there to dig oil.’ Xi Jinping said in a whisper: You know Mayor Duterte, we just restored our friendship. It was not good for a number of years, but let us not talk about it for now. Let’s talk about helping each other, trade, commerce, investments. China can help.’ That’s when it all started,” Duterte said.

Assertive, the President reiterated, “I want my oil because that is ours.” The Chinese leader replied, “No, that could mean trouble.”

Duterte then lashed out at his critics.

“You fools, you think you are the only ones who are bright, a**h***s, when it comes out...that is trouble. What does that mean, from the mouth of President (Xi),” he said.

Duterte, known for his harsh rhetoric, has been approaching the maritime issues in the West Philippine Sea cautiously, maintaining his position that the Philippines cannot afford to challenge China’s military might.

In May 2017, the President first revealed that Xi threatened to wage war if the Philippines would insist on its claims in the contested waterways―despite an arbitral ruling that junked China’s claims in the South China Sea as excessive.

“He told me, ‘We do not want to quarrel with you. We would want to maintain the present warm relationship. But if you force the issue, we will go to war’,” Duterte said two years ago.

The President also stressed back then that he would rather have a compromise with Beijing as going against the East Asian giant’s military could be as good as “committing suicide.”

However, Duterte made it clear that while the Philippines continues to be friends with China, “things would be different” once Beijing touched the Philippine-occupied Pag-Asa Island.

Panelo said the Duterte administration plans to tackle the issues relative to the West Philippine Sea through “friendly negotiations.”

“What we cannot get from the arbitral ruling through force or enforcement, we can get through friendly negotiations,” he said.

“He is making his enemies friends so that both sides will mutually gain benefit from whatever they have,” he added.

Senators on Friday said calling out to the United States to help would not amount to provoking China to go to war.

“That is an option. I am not advocating it but all options should be allowed,” said Senator Richard Gordon.

Senate Majority Leader Ralph Recto also played down fears that involving the US would be tempting war with China.

“A multilateral diplomatic approach is good for the Philippines,” he said.

Liberal Party president Senator Francis Pangilinan said the talk of war is unfounded.

He said Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam all have asserted their sovereignity in these disputed waters repeatedly and yet no war has been declared by any of these countries.

“To say that asserting our legitimate claim over our exclusive economic zone will lead to war is meant to justify our subservience and docility,” Pangilinan said.

Senator Panfilo Lacson said calling on the United States to help check China in the West Philippine Sea is proper given the prevailing circumstances “contrary to some narrow-minded critics that such move is a sure formula for war.”

He said maintaining the balance of power in the West Philippine Sea would prevent rather that ignite war.

“Why? No two superpowers would go to war in this day and age of nuclear technology for the simple reason of its ‘zero-sum’ outcome,” he said.

Lim Bon Liong also said he believes the incident would not affect the business climate of many Chinese investors as or diplomatic relations between China and the Philippines.

The group said it donated P1.2 million for the rehabilitation of the FB Gem-Vir 1, the fishing boat that was sunk, and P250,000 as livelihood assistance to the 22 Filipino fishermen who were left in open waters after the sinking.

READ: Pinoy boat just ‘sideswiped,' no ramming victim—Duterte

READ: China can’t fish in PH waters, Palace clarifies

READ: Aid to fishermen

Topics: Rodrigo Duterte , West Philippine Sea , Xi Jinping , Salvador Panelo , Antonio Carpio
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