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Duterte to raise territorial claims in talks with China

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FILE PHOTO: China’s President Xi Jinping and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte meet during an Exchange of Agreements at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, Philippines, November 20, 2018. Mark Cristino/Pool via Reuters/File Photo

President Rodrigo Duterte will bring up territorial issues in his Beijing meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Philippines ambassador said on Thursday, as tensions rise over claims to the South China Sea.

The Filipino leader faces growing pressure at home to confront China over its aggressive approach to upholding its contested territorial claims in the waterway after largely setting aside the standoff for his years in office.

Beijing claims the majority of the sea, often invoking its so-called nine-dash line to justify its alleged historic rights, but the waters are also contested by Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei.

“The President has made it clear that from his point of view the time has come” to discuss the issue, said Philippine Ambassador Jose Santiago Santa Romana, noting Thursday’s meeting will be the eighth between the two heads of state.

A series of recent confrontations have stoked simmering domestic discontent in the Philippines.

Duterte had shelved the issue to woo Chinese aid, trade and investment.

He has now built up a reservoir of goodwill with China, Santa Romana said, according to an official transcript of his remarks.

A UN-backed tribunal in 2016 ruled there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources in areas falling within its nine-dash line, which is based on a vague map that emerged in the 1940s.

Santa Romana said Duterte would bring up the arbitration victory in the meeting with Xi.

“He has decided that it’s the time to include in the diplomatic agenda,” said Santa Romana, adding “he’s not coming here to provoke the Chinese.”

“We have no illusion that we can solve the issue overnight,” he said.

“I think the important thing is to bring it to the fore of the diplomatic agenda.”

Duterte enjoys firm popular backing, but he has faced criticism at home over his stance that confronting China is futile and will only lead to an unwinnable war.

The issue has flared up since a Chinese fishing trawler hit and sank a Filipino boat in the South China Sea in June, sparking a string of small street protests and criticism from opposition politicians and former officials.

The Chinese fishermen’s association issued an apology over the incident before Duterte’S visit and the government accepted it.

“He’s here to build bridges not to burn bridges with China,” said Santa Romana.


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