China War Talk Not Serious, Philippine Foreign Minister Says

  • President Duterte claimed China’s Xi threatened war at meeting
  • ‘We hate the sin but we love the sinner’: Cayetano on China

China’s President Xi Jinping wasn’t trying to bully the Philippines at a recent meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte, according to the Southeast Asian nation’s top diplomat.

In a speech last Friday, Duterte said Xi had threatened to go to war with the Philippines after Duterte expressed an intention to drill for oil in the disputed South China Sea.

“It is but natural that when you talk about peace and you talk about conflict that the word ‘war’ may or may not come up,” new Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said at a televised briefing in Manila on Monday. “My interpretation of the meeting is that there was no bullying or pushing around.”

Since taking power last year, Duterte has sought to improve ties with China while deflecting criticism at home that he’s failed to assert Philippine claims to disputed territory. China’s claim to more than 80 percent of the South China Sea has prevented the Philippines and Vietnam from exploring valuable oil and gas deposits.

An international court ruled last July that China had no historic rights to resources in waters claimed by the Philippines in a case brought by Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino. Duterte has sought to put the ruling aside in his dealings with China, which has ignored the ruling. That stance has won Duterte $24 billion in loan and investment pledges from China.

‘Common Development’

Cayetano said Duterte only disclosed details of the meeting with Xi because he was “being barraged with comments with what he should do.” He added that the Philippines won’t form a military alliance with China, nor would it try to raise emotions against the Chinese.

“I hate the fact that China is claiming part of the territory of the Philippines but I love the Chinese,” Cayetano said in a speech during a flag-raising ceremony in Manila on Monday. “Why? Because we hate the sin but we love the sinner.”

Without specifying when or where his meeting with the Chinese president took place, Duterte said Xi had threatened to go to war with the Philippines after Duterte asserted his nation’s sovereignty over the South China Sea by citing last year’s arbitration tribunal ruling upholding the Philippine claim.

“Well, if you force this, we’ll be forced to tell you the truth. We will go to war. We will fight you,” Duterte quoted Xi as saying.

When asked to confirm Xi’s comments at a press briefing on Monday, China foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying referred reporters to Cayetano’s earlier remarks.

"We are committed to resolving the dispute with parties directly concerned, including the Philippines, through dialogue and negotiation,” Hua said. “Pending final settlement, we advocate shelving the dispute for common development."

Officials from both countries agreed to discuss “mutually acceptable approaches” to South China Sea issues during a bilateral consultation in the Chinese city of Guiyang last Friday, according to a joint statement released by the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs.

No Disrespect

Cayetano, who claimed to have been present at the meeting, said he couldn’t divulge the exact conversation between the two leaders but claimed it was meant to “increase mutual trust and respect.”

“There was no language or even tone that would lead any of the two presidents to believe that there was disrespect for them or their countries,” he said.

After hosting a meeting of Association of Southeast Asian Nations leaders in Manila last month, Duterte said discussing China’s recent actions in the South China Sea would have been useless.

“For those who are peace loving just like me, I don’t want trouble,” Duterte said. “You have to be very careful. Whenever we talk about a buildup it would be useless. It would be useless except for fighting terrorism,” he said, adding that the Philippines intended to ask China for more help to develop its economy.

In a communique released after the summit, Asean welcomed “progress to complete a framework of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea” by the middle of this year, and recognized the long-term benefits of peace, stability and sustainable development in the region.

— With assistance by Ditas B Lopez, and Cecilia Yap

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