Marianas Variety – Duterte says he questioned Xi over Chinese vessels

MANILA (The Philippine Star) — President Rodrigo Duterte says he questioned the swarming of Chinese ships around the Philippines’ Pag-asa Island in the South China Sea during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Duterte said Chinese ships had surrounded Pag-asa despite his declaration that he would not allow Americans on the island, which is part of Kalayaan town in Palawan and inhabited by about 200 Filipinos.

“I was not angry but I said, ‘Did I not tell you Mr. President that I will never allow the Americans to set foot on any of the islands controlled by the Philippines? That we will not start any war and that I will never allow American weapons to be stationed on that island?’ ” Duterte said in an interview aired over Sonshine TV on Saturday.

“ ‘So, why are you surrounding my island with so many ships? You’re wasting your gasoline.’ That’s my exact words. ‘You’re wasting your gasoline. You might as well give it to us,’ ” he added.

Duterte did not say when his meeting with Xi took place. The two leaders last met in April on the sidelines of the Second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing. In an earlier interview, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said Duterte had mentioned the arbitral ruling on the South China Sea dispute during his meeting with Xi. The Chinese leader reportedly reiterated that China does not recognize the court’s decision.

Duterte said allowing American troops and weapons to set foot on Pag-asa would create trouble.

“ ‘I told you I will not allow, as long as I am President, any American to set foot on that Pag-asa. Because I know that it will really create trouble. And I will not allow their arms. If it’s Philippine government arms given to us by America, well that’s another story. If you want, you can give us a better one,’ ” Duterte quoted himself as telling Xi.

“So, that is how it is. I was quite frank… I really told him that. I told you I will not. You have my word of honor,” he added.

China claims historic rights over virtually the entire South China Sea through the so-called nine-dash line. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims in the area, where about $5 trillion worth of merchandise pass through every year.

In 2016, a Hague-based tribunal said there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the so-called nine-dash line. China has rejected the ruling and maintained that it would not affect its maritime claims.

In April, hundreds of Chinese vessels believed to be maneuvered by maritime militia were seen near Pag-asa, a development that the foreign affairs department has described as “illegal.”

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