Philippines' Duterte gives China free pass over sea row

Philippines' Duterte gives China free pass over sea row

So, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who turns ballistic toward critics of his war on drugs, is likely to find some peace and quiet.

During the daylong summit, the spotlight also was on Duterte. But Manila took softer stance toward Beijing after Duterte took office previous year.

While stressing the need to settle disputes peacefully, leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) - based on the Final Chairman's statement on the 30th ASEAN Summit released Sunday - opted to go soft on the issue of the South China Sea.

Duterte, who made his debut as Asean chair this year, also sent a clear message to other Asean countries that the Philippines will be a "much friendlier" neighbour to China, especially in the contested South China Sea. A vague reference to the ruling was removed from a part of the communique that discussed the long-seething territorial conflicts and moved elsewhere in the document.

On the other side of the geopolitical fence, former Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert I. del Rosario, whose ADR Institute held a forum on the South China Sea days before the summit, deplored Duterte's refusal to include the PCA ruling in the Asean statement.

In July, a United Nations arbitration court sided with Manila, which filed the case in January 2013, and ruled that Beijing's ownership claim of almost the entire South China Sea has no legal basis.

"With the more aggressive action taken by President Duterte, we hope security in the southern Philippines will be improved", he told Malaysian journalists after the Asean Summit 2017 here.

Whatever relevance other countries may draw from it, it is up to them to raise it with China", he told the South China Morning Post."On the other hand, the code of conduct is between Asean and China so that is on the formal agenda.

A ruling handed down a year ago by the United Nations-backed Permanent Arbitration Court in The Hague, which invalidated Beijing's so-called nine-dash-line claim over almost the entire South China Sea, can not be ignored in any code of conduct. Although China is not a member of ASEAN, but, it is extremely sensitive to the content of its statements. Although couched in diplomatic tone, the president's remarks at the opening ceremony of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Manila reflect his combative character.

"It clearly reflected how the issue was discussed".

Diplomatic sources said Chinese embassy officials in Manila had lobbied intensely to remove the phrase in the final draft.

Philippines president, famous for his rhetoric and controversial anti-drugs campaign, said that he would try to persuade his USA counterpart, Donald Trump, to back down from the conflict.

Del Rosario, then under President Benigno Aquino III, spearheaded the filing of the arbitration complaint against China in 2013. "But it is not impregnable", Duterte said.

Asean must not succumb to the wave of anti-globalisation and protectionism sweeping the world, and instead press on with economic integration.

Following China's heavy lobbying for Manila to "water down" the communiqué, including "land reclamation and militarization" first seen last year in Laos, but not featured in an earlier draft of this year's statement seen on Wednesday.

He cited the recent case where Malaysia wanted an Asean statement after some of its nationals were captured in North Korea but no statement was issued.

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