Duterte to take up sea issue with Abe

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte is set to discuss the South China Sea dispute with Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo during the chief executive’s trip to Tokyo next week, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said yesterday.

Duterte and Abe would meet on the sidelines of the the 25th Nikkei Conference on the Future of Asia on May 31.

Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Meynardo Montealegre told a news conference in Malacañang that peace and stability in the region is a “mutual concern to both the Philippines and Japan, and the South China Sea is central in this regard.”

“The Philippines for its part has always affirmed its commitment to uphold the principles of freedom of navigation and overflight, freedom of commerce and other lawful activities, exercise of self-restraint and the peaceful resolution of disputes,” he said.

China and five other governments—Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan —have been locked in long-simmering territorial rifts in the South China Sea, with analysts fearing it would become Asia’s next potential flashpoint for a major armed conflict.

Beijing insists having sovereignty over the entire South China Sea – a claim debunked by The Netherlands-based arbitral tribunal in July 2016, shortly after Duterte assumed office.

Last April, Duterte raised the ruling with China’s President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing but the Chinese leader insisted that they did not recognize the decision that invalidated their territorial claims.