Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte says he'll 'set aside' arbitral ruling on South China Sea

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in Beijing on Oct 20, 2016. President Duterte has said he will not press China on an international arbitral ruling over the South China Sea. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA (INQUIRER/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday (Dec 17) said he would not press China on an international arbitral ruling over the South China Sea despite China's alleged installation of military weapons on its artificial islands in the disputed waters.

"In the play of politics now, I will set aside the arbitral ruling," Mr Duterte said in an early morning news briefing in Davao City after his arrival from state visits to Cambodia and Singapore.

This was not the first time Mr Duterte publicly said that he would not insist the arbitral ruling on China, which favours the Philippines' maritime claims over the South China Sea.

"I will not impose anything on China. Why? Because the politics here in South-east Asia is changing. Like us now, I will separate or I will demand that you (US forces) go out of my country," he said.

Mr Duterte made the statement as he threatened anew to cancel the country's Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, after the US aid agency Millennium Challenge Corp. put on hold funding for anti-poverty programmes in the country.

He said the VFA, after all, was an executive agreement and not a treaty.

"You know, America, you might also be put to notice. Prepare to leave the Philippines. Prepare for the eventual repeal or the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement," he said.

He said he would decide soon on the cancellation of the VFA.

"I am putting them on notice. I will decide any day soon," he said.

"Bye, bye America," he added.

Mr Duterte assailed how America criticised his no-nonsense war on illegal drugs and expressed concerns over the alleged extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

"So why don't you just leave and if you think that there is extrajudicial killing here - it's a prevalent one, it's a virulent practice, you know. So why are you here? What is your purpose in this Visiting Forces Agreement?" he said.

He reiterated the Philippines was not ready to fight China and said that it was the US who was "egging" a fight.

"We will never be ready to fight with China. It is you who is egging a fight there. We will never fight with Russia. That's too far away and besides, we are friends, I said," he explained.

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