China plays down Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte's comments on South China Sea arbitration case

Crew members of China's South Sea Fleet taking part in a drill in the Xisha Islands, or the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea on May 5, 2016.
Crew members of China's South Sea Fleet taking part in a drill in the Xisha Islands, or the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea on May 5, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China on Monday (Oct 17) sought to play down comments by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte that he would raise a controversial arbitral ruling on the South China Sea with China's leaders, ahead of his visit to Beijing this week.

Speaking on Sunday, Duterte vowed not to surrender any sovereignty or deviate from the July award by the tribunal in The Hague.

The ruling dealt a blow to China's extensive claims in the South China Sea. Beijing has refused to recognise the case and has chided any country telling it to abide by the ruling.

Asked about Duterte's remarks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that as he is the country's leader, Duterte will make his policy based upon the best interests of his country and people.

China's position on the arbitration case is extremely clear and consistent, and China advocates peaceful talks between the parties directly involved to resolve the South China Seas issue, Hua told a daily news briefing.

"China's door has always been open to the Philippines, and I think you've also noticed that President Duterte has many times said he wants dialogue with China and his positive desire to appropriately resolve relevant issues," she added.

China is willing to work with all parties in the South China Sea, including the Philippines, to maintain peace and stability in the waters, Hua said.

The unpredictable president's moves to strongly engage China, just a few months after the arbitral award that sparked fears in the region of a backlash by Beijing in the South China Sea, mark a striking reversal in Philippine foreign policy since he took office on June 30.

Duterte goes to China on Tuesday with at least 200 members of the Philippine business elite to pave the way for what he calls a new commercial alliance, amid deteriorating ties with the United States.