South China Sea woes a 'non-issue' for Asean

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is hosting the summit as Asean chair.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is hosting the summit as Asean chair.PHOTO: REUTERS

Duterte says grouping cannot do anything about China's claims or tribunal ruling

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said yesterday it is pointless to discuss China's island-building in the South China Sea and an international tribunal's ruling striking down Beijing's claims to the waterway at this week's Asean summit, calling both a "non-issue".

"It can't be an issue any more. It's already there. What will be the purpose of discussing it if you can't do anything about it?" he said, referring to seven islands China built in the Spratlys archipelago.

Asked if China can be pressured by international opinion, he replied: "Who will dare pressure China? Us? Who can stop them? Us? Only the Americans. They allowed (the island-building), and now they're pushing for arbitration. They want us to commit suicide."

On the arbitration tribunal's decision, he said: "Stop dreaming about arbitral, arbitral. Unless we are prepared to go to war."

He said the tribunal's decision "is simply (based) on entitlement, not even territory. It's a non-issue. Why press it? We cannot, on our own, enforce the arbitral judgment".

FUTILE

It's already there. What will be the purpose of discussing it if you can't do anything about it? Who will dare pressure China? Us? Who can stop them? Us? Only the Americans. They allowed (the island-building), and now they're pushing for arbitration. They want us to commit suicide.

PHILIPPINE PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE

A 20-page draft of the Asean chairman's statement, to be issued at the end of the summit, avoids mentioning the ruling, although it expresses "serious concerns" over the South China Sea row.

Mr Duterte, who is hosting the summit as Asean chair, has been warming once-frosty ties with China. He has set aside the South China Sea ruling, handed down last year, as he seeks investments and loans from Beijing to help with his anti-crime drive and ambitious infrastructure spending programme.

China's claims in the resource-rich sea are also being challenged by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

North Korea, meanwhile, has appealed to Asean for support in its row with the United States to prevent what it warned could be a "nuclear holocaust".

In a letter to Asean secretary-general Le Luong Minh, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho warned that the situation on the Korean Peninsula was "reaching the brink of war" because of Washington's actions. He urged the Asean chief to inform the 10-nation organisation's foreign ministers "about the grave situation" on the peninsula. He also criticised the ongoing US-South Korean military exercises.

Tensions have soared in the region in recent weeks in the wake of a series of North Korean missile tests and tough rhetoric from Washington on the isolated nation's weapons programme.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2017, with the headline 'S. China Sea woes a 'non-issue' for Asean'. Print Edition | Subscribe