MANILA, Philippines – Following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s reported war threat on the Philippines if the latter tries to enforce an arbitration ruling and drill for oil in a disputed part of the South China Sea, Malacañang on Monday reiterated that the country would not give up its right on the territory and would pursue its claim via peaceful means.
“We are very clear that we are not giving up our claim of sovereignty and sovereign rights over certain islands in the South China Sea, at the same time, these matters are pursued in the context of maintaining peace and prosperity in the region,” Palace spokesperson Ernesto Abella said.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague award last year clarified the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its 200-mile exclusive economic zone to access offshore oil and gas fields, including the Reed Bank, 85 nautical miles off its coast. It also invalidated China’s nine-dash line claim on its maps denoting sovereignty over most of the South China Sea.
Last Friday, after his visit to Beijing, Duterte said he had discussed with Xi the Philippines’ right over the territories and got a firm, but friendly warning.
“We intend to drill oil there, if it’s yours, well, that’s your view, but my view is, I can drill the oil, if there is some inside the bowels of the earth because it is ours,” Duterte said in a speech, recalling his conversation with Xi.
“His response to me, ‘we’re friends, we don’t want to quarrel with you, we want to maintain the presence of warm relationship, but if you force the issue, we’ll go to war.”
On Monday, Abella said Duterte’s “first and last priority…is the national interest and the well-being of the Filipino.”
“The Philippines and China are committed to peaceful resolutions to socio-economic, and political challenges, and the recently concluded meet on the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism is one platform for confidence-building measures, to address issues pertaining to the South China Sea,” he added.