Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said China threatened to go to war after he asserted the Southeast Asian nation’s sovereignty over disputed territory.
In an unspecified meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Duterte said he will drill for oil in the South China Sea, citing an international arbitration tribunal ruling upholding the Philippines’ claim. That prompted a retort from Xi, according to Duterte.
“Well, if you force this, we’ll be forced to tell you the truth. We will go to war. We will fight you,” Duterte on Friday quoted Xi as saying.
Duterte didn’t say when and where the conversation took place. Calls and an email seeking comment from China’s foreign ministry outside of regular office hours weren’t immediately answered.
Since Duterte took office in June, the tough-talking 72-year-old leader had repaired fractured ties with China, touting the economic benefits including $24 billion of loans and investment. China’s efforts to assert its dominance over the South China Sea, where more than $5 trillion in annual trade is ferried, have in the past angered Southeast Asian nations with competing claims, such as Vietnam and the Philippines.
The Philippines won a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague last July that rejected China’s assertion to the territory. China has said the tribunal has no jurisdiction over sovereignty disputes.
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China’s claim is “far away,” Duterte said in the southern city of Davao, recalling what he told Xi. “It’s almost alien to us to hear those words because we were never under Chinese jurisdiction,” he said.
Duterte’s comments come just after China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations agreed on a draft framework for a code of conduct governing actions in the region.
Separately, officials from the two countries agreed to discuss “mutually acceptable approaches” to South China Sea issues during a bilateral consultation in the Chinese city of Guiyang on Friday, according to a joint statement released by the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs. Handling incidents and disputes in an appropriate manner is important, they said.
The next discussion will be held in the Philippines in the second half of the year.