By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
SINGAPORE—President Duterte said he will push for the completion of the Code of Conduct (COC) on the South China Sea to avoid tension in the disputed waters, especially when Western countries like the United States come into the picture.
Duterte made the statement ahead of the 21st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-China Summit here Wednesday morning.
In a doorstop interview, Duterte said that he will focus on the completion of the COC during the said summit.
“I will focus on the COC. Everything has been excellent between China and the rest of ASEAN, except for the fact that there’s friction between the Western nations and China,” he said.
According to Duterte, he is worried about any tension that may arise in the resource-filled area, adding that the Philippine cannot pick sides because of the Mutual Defense Treaty it signed with the US in 1951. “I am worried. I expressed it last night because we have a defense treaty — mutual defense treaty with the US,” he said.
“And [if] there’s some — a serious miscalculation. You know because of the treaty I‘d like to [tell] China — that is why at all costs, we must have the COC,” he added. “So you’re there, you’re in possession, you occupied it. Then tell us what route shall we take and what kind of behavior,'” he continued.
Despite this, Duterte showed no indication of abrogating the said treaty with the US. “It’s not abrogated. It’s there. And even — I don’t know. It’s the decision of the President., Congress, the Armed Forces,” he said.
The 10 ASEAN leaders in November last year agreed to officially start the COC negotiations, citing the calmer situation in the disputed waters. The countries that have claims in the South China Sea are China, the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Malaysia.
The Philippines vowed to take an active role in the COC negotiations when it assumed the role of coordinator of the ASEAN-China dialogue partnership until 2021.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) earlier said that the COC is not meant to resolve the disputes among the claimants, but is meant to manage incidents, prevent incidents from happening that may escalate or create situations that may complicate peace and stability in the region.
President Duterte has been repeatedly reassuring the public that he will not give up the country’s rights on the disputed West Philippine Sea despite the country’s renewed and improved friendship with China.
Since winning the presidency, Duterte has set aside the Philippines’ victory in The Hague that granted the Philippines rights over the disputed water, and opted to build stronger ties with China. Duterte, however, vowed to talk to China about the arbitral ruling within his term.