Duterte: China guarantees safe passage in South China Sea

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 12) — President Rodrigo Duterte said Chinese President Xi Jinping guaranteed "safe passage for all" in the disputed South China Sea.

Duterte, speaking early Sunday after his arrival from Vietnam, said he brought up the issue with Xi during their bilateral talks on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in Vietnam on Saturday.

"He was quite surprised about my coming in very strong in my statement here about the conduct of the sea. I said, 'I am not raising any sovereign issue. Do not worry,'" Duterte said. "I had to do it because the Philippines chairs the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) now."

READ: Duterte to raise South China Sea issue with China's Xi

ASEAN Secretary General Le luong Minh said although the maritime dispute in the South China Sea remains to be one of the concerns of the ASEAN, one of its achievements is maintaining peace and stability in the region.

Aside from the Philippines, ASEAN states Vietnam, Singapore, and Indonesia also have claims in the South China Sea.

China has been vocal in protecting its claims over the disputed waters despite a 2016 ruling from the United Nations (UN) Arbitral Tribunal that declared the Philippines has exclusive sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea, or the South China Sea.

The 479-paged ruling also said China interfered with the Philippines' fishing rights, as well as breached its sovereign rights when it conducted oil and gas exploration near the Reed Bank.

China said it does not accept or recognize the ruling.

Duterte said he will not go further on the issue, at least not for now.

"If I raise the issue now, when there are conflicting contestants, six tayong nag-aagaw diyan (there are six of us claiming it)," Duterte said, referring to the four ASEAN countries, plus China and Taiwan. "The arbitration rendered by the international court does not mean anything to anybody except China which does not want to follow.”

Duterte said the Philippines will not give up its claims on the South China Sea and will eventually bring up the topic, but it will only be between the Philippines and China since the UN ruling only applies to the two countries.

"We never surrendered anything. Just saying that I do not want to talk about this at the moment, it is not time for aggression, it is not time for violence, we have so many domestic problems to take care of before we start to venture to some sort of aggressive stand," Duterte said.

The President said his bilateral talk with China and Russia was the "most meaningful." He also assured Xi that the two countries' friendship "will remain warm and robust."

"They say that he's supporting me doon sa (regarding) insurgency pati sa (as well as) drugs and the help that they can extend to us," Duterte said.

Duterte said Xi assured the construction of the two bridges in Pasig River will start immediately.

"Everything went smoothly and the President of China said that he would honor what he promised," Duterte said.

In May, China pledged $24 billion dollars worth of investments, including the two bridges, and a railway project in Mindanao.

CNN Philippines' Triciah Terada, Yvette Morales, and Ruth Cabal contributed to this report.