Cayetano explains Duterte's 'I love Xi Jinping' remark

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FILE PHOTO. President Rodrigo Duterte (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (R)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 14) — The country's top diplomat does not see anything wrong with President Rodrigo Duterte's praises for his Chinese counterpart.

Duterte hogged global headlines yet again, for his statements before flying to China for the Boao Forum for Asia on April 9.

"I just simply love Xi Jinping. He understood, he understands my problem, and he's willing to help. And I would like to say thank you, China," he said in his speech.

Duterte added he needs China "more than anybody else."

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano was asked about the President's remarks in a recent interview with CNN's Kristie Lu Stout.

"Shouldn't we love everyone and don't we need everyone?" Cayetano said, adding that the two countries are close neighbors.

This led Stout to ask, "Does Duterte love China more than his own sovereignty, sovereignty of the Philippines?"

Cayetano disagreed.

"He loves the Filipino people. He's said he will die for the Filipino people. He'll not die for America, for China, for Japan but he'll die and give his life for the Filipino," Cayetano said.

The Duterte government has been criticized for its soft stance on China amid the long-standing maritime dispute over the South China Sea.

Duterte has said the Philippines cannot afford to declare war against China, saying it was best to stay friends with the Asian giant.

Cayetano said the relationship between the two countries has "blossomed," but reiterated this does not mean the government is giving up on its claims in the West Philippine Sea.

"We say the same thing and we mean it. We're not gonna give a single inch of our territory and we're not gonna give up our sovereignty rights," he said.

In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague awarded to the Philippines areas in the South China Sea that lie within the country's 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

Read: What you need to know about the Arbitral Tribunal's ruling

However, China has refused to acknowledge the arbitral ruling and continues to claim almost the entire South China Sea. Duterte promised to bring the ruling up with China during his term.

During Duterte's visit to China last week, he and Xi held talks for a possible joint energy exploration in the South China Sea.