Duterte says he'll question China's sweeping sea claims at ASEAN summit

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 21) — For the second time around, President Rodrigo Duterte is questioning China's sweeping claim over the South China Sea before an international audience.

"I will talk lengthily about it dito sa ASEAN... Simple lang, can you claim an ocean as your own? Tell me now because I will also claim mine," Duterte said in a speech in Davao City on Friday, prior to leaving for the 34th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Bangkok, Thailand.

The President posed the same question during a conference in Tokyo, Japan last May 31. "I love China, it has helped us a bit. But it behooves upon us to ask, is it right for a country to claim the whole ocean?" he said in a rare rebuke of Beijing, whose friendship he has nurtured.

Duterte on Friday said the "problem" with China is its nine-dash line, claiming almost the entire South China Sea, supposedly based on historical records.

"Yung linya niya, isinagad niya malapit sa ating coastal water," he said.

[Translation: The line China drew, it is very near our coasts."]

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague recognized the Philippines' sovereign rights to some sea features within in its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone that China claims. Beijing, however, continues to stand by its claims and has built artificial islands, prohibited Filipino fishermen from fishing, and interfered in petroleum exploration in areas claimed and occupied by the Philippines, also known as the West Philippine Sea.

Duterte stressed that if China could claim an entire ocean, he might as well claim the Sulu Sea south of the country.

"I am thinking of claiming the Sulu Sea as ours. Huwag kayong dumaan rin pag wala kayong permiso sa akin [Don't pass without a permission from me.] and I won't mind if America would claim the whole of the Pacific and the Australian would claim all. That is the danger," he said.

Duterte will attend the ASEAN Summit in the wake of the controversial sinking of a Filipino boat after it was hit by a Chinese vessel near Recto Bank, also known as Reed Bank in the West Philippine Sea last June 9. The Department of Foreign Affairs said the incident may be discussed during the ASEAN leaders' meetings, which happens from June 22 to 23.

China is not a member state of the ASEAN but is negotiating with the regional bloc to come up with a code of conduct that will identify what claimant countries can and cannot do in the disputed South China Sea. For years, the Philippines and other members of the ASEAN have been pushing for a legally-binding COC amid allegations of China's militarization in contested areas.