MANILA • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has urged a peaceful way out of conflicts with China over the South China Sea and said international law must be followed, amid increased regional friction over military activities by Beijing and Washington.
Mr Duterte made the remarks in a meeting with visiting Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe, whose tour of four South-east Asian countries coincides with some rhetorical sparring between the United States and China over the disputed waterway.
"We must always be guided by our commitments in international law. Any and all disputes must be resolved peacefully," Mr Duterte said in a statement on Friday.
The Philippines, particularly its military, has a deep mistrust of China over what it sees as intrusions into its territory, bullying of its fishermen and denial of access to its energy resources.
Vietnam and Malaysia have made similar complaints this year. China maintains its activities are lawful, because they are in its waters.
Ties have improved somewhat owing to Mr Duterte's courting of and praise for the Chinese leadership.
General Wei, who has also visited Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, had earlier met Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, an outspoken critic of China's maritime conduct.
A Defence Ministry statement summarising the meeting said Mr Lorenzana and Gen Wei committed to resolve disputes amicably and advance mutual trust and interests.
However, that statement contrasted sharply from one that was issued earlier and later retracted, which said Mr Lorenzana had told Gen Wei that any activities infringing on Philippine maritime territory would be challenged by its navy.
Mr Lorenzana said the Philippines would patrol its waters, according to the retracted statement, which referred to a 2016 arbitration ruling on the South China Sea that Mr Lorenzana had told Gen Wei would be adhered to "without any possibility of compromise or change".
The arbitration case is highly sensitive to China because the tribunal invalidated its claim of historic jurisdiction over nearly the entire South China Sea.