Philippines' Duterte changes tone on South China Sea dispute with China

Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte speaks before employees at Davao City hall, on June 27, 2016.
Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte speaks before employees at Davao City hall, on June 27, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA (Reuters) - Incoming Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Monday (JUne 27) he won't comment about the country's South China Sea dispute with China until after a UN arbitration court has made its ruling.

In 2013, Manila went to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague seeking to clarify its economic entitlements under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and declare void China's so-called "nine-dash line" claim on the South China Sea.

"We will wait for the decision before I make any public statement," Duterte said in a speech in Davao City, where he was mayor for 22 years.

"We are just waiting for the arbitral judgment. Let's not bother that issue. I have to talk with everybody in the government, especially the military."

Duterte's statement was in line with outgoing President Benigno Aquino's policy to de-escalate tension with China by avoiding any provocative comments until after The Hague delivers a ruling in the coming weeks.

During the campaign, Duterte said he would ride a jet ski and plant a Philippine flag on one of the seven man-made islands China had built in the Spratly to dramatise Manila's claim.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, where about US$5 trillion (S$6.77 trillion)worth of trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims. Beijing marks a "nine-dash line" on maps to show its delineate its claim.

Last week, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said the tribunal may hand down a ruling in the first week of July.