CHINESE President Xi Jinping threatened to go to war against the Philippines if President Rodrigo Duterte pushed forward with his plan to extract oil in the disputed territories in the South China Sea.
Making a disclosure of his recent conversation with the Chinese President following his recent visit to Beijing, Duterte also dismissed suggestions from former Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario and Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio that he did nothing to assert the country’s position.
“Do not believe [Albert] del Rosario and Justice Carpio that I’m weak, that I did not use the arbitral award as a leverage. You know, in the presence of General [Hermogenes] Esperon and [Delfin] Lorenzana, I talked with them, face-to-face,” Duterte said, referring to his talks with President Xi on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation last week.
“I said, that is ours and we intend to drill oil there. If it’s yours, well, that is your view but my view is that I can drill the oil if there will be some, inside the bowels of the earth because it is ours,” he told Xi.
Xi appeared flustered with the suggestion and threatened to go to war, Duterte said.
“He said, if you force the issue, we’ll be forced to tell the truth. Here’s the truth. We will go to war. We’ll fight you. Ask Esperon and Lorenzana,” the President said.
Esperon however said Mr. Duterte was unlikely to say those things. “Why would he utter those statements. Negative.” Esperon admitted that there was a “restricted meeting between the two presidents . “I knew what was discussed but that was not the tone of discussion. “ (Hindi niya sasabihin yun. Bakit naman niya sasabihin yun. Negative. Basta nagkarooon ng “restricted meeting ang dalawang presidente. Ang pinag-usapan ay mga projects.”
The Chinese President said any move by Manila to begin exploration would threaten another claimant, Vietnam.
“But if we remain friends, we will talk about the arbitral ruling. But it cannot be now. You know why? Because you’re not the only claimant,” Duterte said.
“Vietnam is also a virulent claimant. They would go to war for that. And he said if you do that, all the claimants will go there, so we have to declare war because we will be fighting on all fronts. That’s what he said,” Duterte said.
Contrary to public criticism, the President insisted that he tried to play the arbitral card against China to assert the country’s jurisdiction in the disputed waters.
“But I have the arbitral [decision]. Our [claim] is territorial and legal,” he said.
Duterte said war with China would bring only losses.
“Why would I do that? That would result in a massacre and would destroy everything. The first to be hit would be Palawan. I do not have cruise missiles. I do not have fast boats. Maybe frigates but that’s about it,” he said.
Earlier this week, Duterte appeared lukewarm to the proposed joint exploration and development in the contested islands in the South China Sea, a suggestion made by his special envoy for intercultural dialogue Jose de Venecia Jr. in Beijing.
The President then said he would review the pros and cons of three-way exploration efforts at the contested waters.
“Let us see the wherewithal. Let us see if I will not get indebted. It has to be fair and it has to be balance. So if we can get something there, with no hassle at all, why not?” the President said last Tuesday.
At the Bicameral Consultation Mechanism meeting, China and the Philippines agreed to pursue confidence-building measures and to identify mutually acceptable approaches toward resolving the South China Sea dispute.
In its terms of reference released Friday, the consultative body said the two countries would use the BCM to promote maritime cooperation and security in the disputed waters, as had been agreed following President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to Beijing last year.
The bilateral talks began just as the Philippines and China mended relations long-frayed by the dispute.
“The BCM will serve as a platform for confidence-building measures and for promoting maritime cooperation and maritime security,” read the BCM statement following initial talks in Guiyang, China.
“The BCM will meet to discuss issues of concern to either side and cooperation in the South China Sea, and where possible, identify mutually acceptable approaches towards addressing these issues, including cooperation programs and projects,” the BCM said in a statement.
It said the body would hold regular talks “without prejudice to the work of any other bilateral and multilateral mechanism dealing with issues concerning the South China Sea.”
Succeeding meetings will be alternately held in Manila and Beijing every six months on mutually agreed dates. Special meetings may also be held as the need arises, and upon mutual agreement of both parties.
Both countries will be represented by an equivalent number of officials of their respective foreign affairs ministries responsible for maritime affairs. A report of each meeting will also be agreed upon by both parties.
The BCM may also establish a technical and working group if necessary.
Ties between Manila and Beijing have seen a revival as Duterte pursued an independent foreign policy, steering the Philippines closer to non-traditional allies such as China and Russia. This while deviating from the country’s long-standing ties with the United States.
Earlier this week, China expressed openness to Duterte’s approach for active dialogue and cooperation in handling the maritime dispute.
Duterte had reached a consensus with his counterpart, Chinese President Xi Jinping, over how to handle the dispute, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying previously said.
The Chinese president met with his Philippine counterpart on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.
Talks between Manila and Beijing began just as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China agreed on a framework for a binding code of conduct to govern the disputed waters, a breakthrough reached 15 years since agreeing to craft the pact.