Cayetano: China did not bully PH with threat

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 22) — Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Monday China is not bullying the Philippines, after Chinese President Xi Jinping issued an apparent threat to President Rodrigo Duterte in Beijing.

"I will not contradict the President's word. I'm just telling you that given fact that I can't tell you much but my interpretation in the meeting is that, there was no bullying, no pushing around. It wasn't a threat in the sense that it was more the threat of conflict will always be there if we do not dialogue," Cayetano said in a press conference.

On Friday, President Rodrigo Duterte said that Xi had warned of war if the Philippines started to drill oil in Reed Bank. The bank is located in the disputed waters, but it is part of the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone.

"He told me, 'We do not want to quarrel with you. We would want to maintain the present warm relationship. But if you force the issue, we will go to war'," Duterte said, quoting Xi in one of their recent exchanges.

Read more: Duterte: Xi told me China to go to war if PH drills oil in SCS

Cayetano was privy to the exchange but can't provide more details on the restricted meeting without clearance from Duterte.

But Cayetano cautioned the use of the word "war" should be put into context.

"The focus is on avoiding war as opposed to conflict," the Foreign Affairs Secretary said.

"There was no language or even tone that would lead any of the two Presidents that there was disrespect for them, or their country," he added.

Cayetano also said the talk was productive to result in the Bilateral Constructive Mechanism, a more formal dialogue to iron out concerns on the rival claims of China and Philippines.

No need for diplomatic protest

The Foreign Affairs Secretary also said he plans to meet with lawmakers, and Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio to brief them about Duterte's strategy in handling the rival claims with China.

Carpio said in a statement issued Saturday should bring the war threat to another arbitral tribunal.

"This extremely troubling development calls for all Filipinos to unite to defend the West Philippine Sea in accordance with the Constitution, international law and UNCLOS," Carpio said.

Senator Francis Pangilinan said the Department of Foreign Affairs should issue a diplomatic protest against the apparent threat.

But Cayetano responded there is no need to report to the United Nations and issue a note verbale, as he is confident the lawmakers would change their mind.

"I am confident that after I briefed the senators who are asking us to protest. I am confident that their decision will change or they will understand the context of the President's pronouncement," Cayetano added.

Cayetano added that the Philippines' negotiators will "fight to the nail" to protect the country's interests.