President Duterte is back in the country after a four-day visit to China that was described by Malacanang as “successful and highly productive,” particularly on the issue of maritime dispute.
Duterte arrived around dawn on Sunday (September 1) at the Villamor Air Base and was met on the tarmac by police and military officials for a quick briefing.
His spokesman and chief legal counsel, Salvador Panelo, said Duterte managed to get a commitment from Chinese President Xi Jinping during their “frank exchanges” that self-restraint will be the norm in the disputed areas of the South China Sea, consistent with the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
In a statement, Panelo said: “The close relationship that President Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping have been able to foster through the years has enabled the two leaders to have frank exchanges on the respective positions of our two countries with regard to our territorial dispute, with both of them agreeing to exercise self-restraint and observe the UNCLOS, particularly with respect to maritime navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, and with China’s recognition of the immediate need of the crafting of a definitive Code of Conduct for our regional waters, all with the intent of avoiding provocative acts that may impair friendly ties and threaten the peace and stability of the region,” Panelo said in a statement.
The two leaders let off steam in their meeting last Thursday after Duterte mentioned the arbitral ruling favoring the Philippines’ claim in some parts of the South China Sea, which Manila calls as the West Philippine Sea. Xi promptly answered that Beijing is maintaining its position not recognizing that decision.
They then agreed to move forward “on the basis of mutual trust and good faith, to manage the South China Sea issue, and to continue to dialogue peacefully in resolving the conflict.”
“Further, the two leaders recognize that despite any dispute that our countries may have, the same can always be resolved through peaceful dialogue and negotiations, specially given the centuries-old familial ties between our nations,” Panelo said.
In the meantime, the two vowed “self-restraint and respect for freedom of navigation in — and overflight above — the South China Sea.”
“Our bilateral relations have a much wider horizon, and there are vast frontiers where our nations can cooperate and assist each other for their mutual benefits, such as in the fields of education, health, agriculture, science and technology, security, trade, investments, energy, and people to people and cultural exchanges,” Panelo also reported.
As expected, Duterte and Xi’s talks on the sea dispute served as the highlight of the fifth visit the Philippine leader to Beijing and their eighth bilateral meeting.