Duterte drops planned visit to Pag-asa island

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Duterte in a pre-departure speech (file)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 13) — A week after saying he planned to go to a disputed island in the West Philippine Sea, President Rodrigo Duterte said on Thursday that he would no longer push through with the visit to preserve good relations with China.

Speaking to Filipinos in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Duterte said China had sent word asking him not to go to the Kalayaan group of islands in the Spratlys and plant the Philippine flag in the area.

Related: Duterte plans to visit Pag-asa Island, rename Benham Rise

He said China explained that other claimant countries might follow suit.

"Please do not do that. What will happen if every head of state will go there and plant flags, there will be trouble," Duterte said paraphrasing the message from China.

He said he responded by saying he valued the friendship with the Asian superpower and "would like to preserve that goodwill" — citing much improved exports of Philippine products to China.

Related: Duterte: Despite sea row, PH 'at best level' of ties with China

However, Duterte said he might not personally visit the Spratlys, but he countered with another gesture to lay claim on the disputed territory.

"I will not go there to raise the Philippine flag. Maybe I will send my son just to show there the blood there of the claimant," he said.

Last Thursday, the President said he planned to visit Pag-asa Island to raise the Philippine flag there on June 12, Independence Day.

Meanwhile, regarding the Benham Rise, Duterte repeated that he wanted it renamed the "Philippine Ridge" to assert the country's claim to the underwater plateau.