Updated 2:12 PM EST, Wed, Jan 29, 2020

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President Duterte Vows not to Discuss South China Sea Conflict With China Before ASEAN

President Duterte Won't Discuss Sea Conflict with China Before ASEAN; Pushes for One-on-One Talks

(Photo : Getty Images) President Rodrigo Duterte said he does not want to antagonize China by bringing up the South China Sea conflict before the ASEAN

Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte said on Wednesday that he has chosen to directly talk to China about their territorial issue over the South China Sea instead of bringing up the dispute before the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Duterte said his decision to have a one-on-one talk with Beijing officials would be the safer thing to do following the recent ice-breaker talks between Manila's special envoy for negotiations with China, Fidel Ramos, and high-ranking Chinese officials, in Hong Kong.

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Duterte said bringing up the territorial conflict with the ASEAN would antagonize Beijing and would jeopardize the current groundwork being worked on by Ramos and other high-ranking officials for formal talks between the two nations.

Face to face

"I will only bring the issue when we are together face to face," Duterte said in a press briefing held in Manila last Wednesday.

Duterte said hyping up its dispute with China on the contested islands and reefs in the South China Sea by discussing it during the ASEAN meeting might push Beijing not to hold any talks at all with Manila.

"If you quarrel with them now and you claim sovereignty, make noise here and there, they might not just even want to talk," he pointed out.

Special envoy

Ramos, who was on a recent five-day trip to Hong Kong, held initial talks with high-ranking Chinese officials to de-escalate the rising tension between the two countries over the issue of sovereignty of the disputed South China Sea.

Ramos and the Chinese officials have agreed to push for joint fishing rights between the two nations in the contested Scarborough Shoal when formal talks begin.

"We maintain good relations with China. Let us create an environment where we sit down and talk directly. That is the time we would say we proceed from here," the president said.

Last month, an international arbitral court ruled that there no legal basis for China's massive territorial claims in the South China Sea under its nine-dash line.

The court said Beijing violated international law and the Philippines' rights to explore resources in its exclusive economic zone.

Arbitral court ruling

Duterte said the ruling would form the basis of its talks with Beijing despite Chinese President Xi Jinping's statement that China will not accept any actions or future propositions based on the 'illegal' ruling.

Duterte said that if Beijing refuses to hold talks with Manila, there is nothing he can do. Declaring 'war' on China, he said, would be the most 'stupid' thing to do

China has dismissed the tribunal ruling as 'illegal' and 'null and void.' Beijing has refused to accept the verdict despite calls from the international community for it to do so.

Beijing had said that it does not recognize the tribunal's ruling and boycotted the entire three-year-long court proceedings.  

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