By ELLEN TORDESILLAS
CHINA is hopeful that relations with the Philippines will be better under the government of Rodrigo Duterte, who will succeed President Benigno Aquino III on July 1.
In a regular press conference in Beijing Wednesday, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang was asked about statements by Duterte that he is willing to talk with China and go into joint exploration in disputed areas in the South China Sea.
Lu said they have noted reports about Duterte’s statements on China. “ As a Chinese saying goes, a good neighbor is better than a far-off relative. As long as we treat each other with sincerity, follow the spirit of seeking common ground while shelving differences, there is no obstacle that we cannot surmount, nor dispute that we cannot resolve. We hope that the new government of the Philippines can work with us towards the same direction, properly deal with relevant disputes, and bring the bilateral relations back to the track of sound development with concrete actions.”
Lu further said, “The sound and stable development of China-Philippines relations serves the fundamental interests of the two nations and peoples as well as regional peace, stability and prosperity. China and ASEAN countries have been in close communication on the relevant dispute, put differences under effective management and control, and maintained regional peace and stability and economic development.”
Duterte has been saying a lot, oftentimes conflicting, about relations with China. But he is consistent on his willingness to talk with China even on a bilateral basis, a departure from the insistence of the Aquino government that talks with the superpower neighbor on the disputed islands in the South China Sea should be multilateral, involving at least other claimants – Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan or countries in the ASEAN.
Philippines and China relations is at its lowest with the filing by the Philippines of a suit against China questioning the legality of the latter’s all-encompassing nine-dash line map before the Arbitral Tribunal of the United Nations Commission on the Law of the Sea. Decision on the Philippine suit is expected in the coming weeks.
China has been expanding rocks that they occupy in the Spratlys into islands by reclamation and building what looks like military facilities.
Duterte, while saying that he is willing to set aside the issue of sovereignty and go into into joint exploration with China if the economic superpower would build train system around the country, he also said he would take a Philippine Navy ship to the nearest disputed feature in Spratlys and ride a jet ski and install the Philippine flag there.
In his latest statement after the May 9 elections, Duterte said a summit that would involve United States, Australia and Japan, aside from the six claimant countries, is needed resolve the South China Sea dispute.