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Duterte won't raise territorial row at ASEAN Summit

President Rodrigo Duterte will not bring up the issue of the South China Sea dispute during his trip to Laos for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit on September 6-8.

Duterte in a press conference on Wednesday in Ninoy Aquino International Airport said that he preferred to engage China in bilateral talks.

"No, I will only bring the issue face-to-face (China)... because if you quarrel with them now, claim soveignty, make noise here and there, they might not just even want to talk," he said.

"Let us create an environment where we can sit down and talk directly, and that is the time I would say, we proceed from here," Duterte added.

He reiterated his stance that the Philippines cannot go to war against China over the territorial dispute.

"Eh kung awayin tapos sabihin, 'Eh ayoko makipagsalita sa inyo, bahala kayo sa buhay ninyo,' can we do anything? Wala man tayong magawa. We declare war? It's not an option," Duterte said. 

"I would not be stupid to do that. It would be a massacre for all. Maybe many [casualties] for us, some for them. But still, war is not an option nowadays," he added.

Duterte has appointed former President Fidel V. Ramos to get in touch with contacts in China and rekindle friendly relations.

"Ramos is there paving the way to the good offices of anybody or any other country, but you know we maintain good relations with China," Duterte said.

Court ruling

Last month, an arbitration court in the Hague ruled that China had no historic title over the South China Sea and had breached the Philippines' sovereign rights there. The decision infuriated Beijing, which dismissed the court's authority.

But during the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' meeting last month, Cambodia supported China's position omitting a reference to the ruling in the statement of the bloc, which follows an overriding principle of making decisions by consensus.

The Philippines said it had "vigorously pushed" for the inclusion, but denied that its failure to secure the reference was a diplomatic win for China.

China and the ASEAN countries aim to finish by the middle of next year a framework for a code of conduct to ease tension in the disputed South China Sea, according to Chinese state media.

Since 2010, China and the 10 ASEAN members have been discussing a set of rules aimed at avoiding conflict among rival claimants in the busy waterway.

China has blamed the United States and its allies in the region, such as Japan and Australia, for stoking tension in the South China Sea.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of trade moves annually. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the sea, believed to be rich in energy deposits. —JST, GMA News with Reuters