The Philippines’ new president said on Tuesday that Manila is ready to talk to China, not go to war, if an arbitration tribunal rules in its favor in a case it brought against Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea.
President Rodrigo Duterte said the Philippines “remains optimistic that the tribunal will rule in our favor.” But if the ruling is not favorable, then the Philippines would accept and abide by it, he added.
“When it’s favorable to us, let’s talk,” he said. “We are not prepared to go to war, war is a dirty word.”
But he said the country will proceed accordingly after it obtains a copy of the judgment, and will base decisions on the Philippines’ greater interest.
The official China Daily reported yesterday that China is ready to start negotiations with the Philippines if Manila ignores the tribunal ruling, which is expected to be issued on July 12.
The Philippines brought its long-simmering disputes with China in the South China Sea to international arbitration in January 2013 after Beijing took control of disputed Scarborough Shoal following a standoff.
At his first Cabinet meeting after taking office last week, Duterte expressed the need for the Philippines to fully study the impact of the ruling, whether favorable or not.
New Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay made sensitive remarks about the territorial disputes that were broadcast live by the state-run TV network before it abruptly cut away from its coverage of the Cabinet meeting.
Yasay spoke about an apparent wish by some foreign governments for Manila to issue a stronger statement about the dispute if the tribunal rules favorably. “I am adverse to that idea,” he told Duterte and fellow Cabinet members.
“There are lots of nuances that we do not know as yet,” Yasay said. “But the bottom-line question is what will happen if the decision is in our favor,” Yasay said, adding that China could potentially “dig in and put us to a test.” If that happens, he said, “there is no point for us to yell.”