Duterte vows to act if China 'siphons minerals' from South China Sea

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The government is prepared to assert its rightful claim if China moves to mine resources in parts of the South China Sea where the country has economic rights, President Rodrigo Duterte has said.

In a one-on-one interview with CNN Philippines on Thursday, the President said he is ready to raise the arbitral ruling recognizing the country's economic rights over the potentially mineral-rich contested waters.

"[I will bring up the ruling] during my time. I cannot let it pass na balewala na lang," Duterte said.

[Translation: I cannot let it pass like it was nothing.]

When asked what circumstance could push the government to do so, Duterte said: "When the minerals are already being siphoned out."

The President said he is ready to negotiate with his Chinese counterparts, but he is also firm he would not stand idly by if Beijing acted alone in exploring Scarborough Shoal.

"If it's a question of money, wait a minute. I thought we were friends. We share economic bounties. So how about us? I have this title," Duterte said.

The Philippines and China have rekindled ties under the Duterte administration, despite the country notching a historic win at The Hague in July.

The international court rejected China's claims over almost the whole South China Sea — a crucial shipping route for almost $5 trillion worth of goods. It also ruled that China violated the country's sovereign rights in the area by interfering in fishing and oil exploration and building artificial islands.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, however, raised the possibility of the two countries jointly exploring natural gas reserves and fishing areas in the South China Sea.

The proposal was met with fierce criticism from various quarters. Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, one of the country's foremost experts on the maritime dispute, said it would be a violation of the Constitution to undertake joint development in the country's exclusive economic zone.

The President seemed to hint at the same strategy, saying the Philippines only had a limited set of options.

"I have only two choices. I won the arbitral [decision], the award, then I will force it, I will recover [the disputed waters] through force. I will assert my supremacy there, legal or go to war," Duterte said.

He further explained, "Hindi kaya mabuting mag-usap tayo ngayon, 'yung tungkol sa kayamanan na lumalabas diyan."

[Translation: Wouldn't it be better if we talked about it now, the resources that come from those waters?]

U.S. role

Meanwhile, the President shifted the spotlight to the United States. He accused the U.S. of acting too late on reports China was building military outposts in the disputed waters, and then expecting the country to go head to head with the Asian power.

"Bakit hindi sila pumuntang China at sabihin, 'Hey, this is supposed to be an international sea. Nobody owns it. And it is against the law to be putting up structures in it,'" Duterte said.

"Bakit hindi nila pinuntahan? Tapos ngayong pinahinog na nila, gusto nila tuloy na we go into a cabal."

[Translation: Why didn't they approach China then, saying, "Hey, this is supposed to be an international sea. Nobody owns it. And it is against the law to be putting up structures in it."Why didn't they approach China? Now that the situation has escalated, they want us to go into a cabal.]