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Roque hits Rappler article: I did call China an aggressor state, but...

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Sunday slammed news website Rappler for publishing an article saying he had once condemned China, but now he supports the administration's ties with the country.

"The article of Rappler...was written without consideration of the proper context by which I said that China is an aggressor state," Roque said in a statement.

"I do acknowledge that I was one of those that pushed for binding arbitration as in fact, no less than Justice [Antonio] Carpio wanted a different mode of settlement, which was through conciliation," he added.

Roque's clarification came after Rappler wrote an article indicating that Roque once called China an "aggressor under international law" in relation to its actions in the resource-rich West Philippine Sea.

The article mentioned that at present, Roque "justifies joint exploration with China in the West Philippine Sea."

Roque admitted that he had called China an "aggressor" during his lecture in 2015 at Harvard Law School.

"I confirm that in my lecture at Harvard in 2015, I called China as an aggressor. I delivered that lecture when China forcibly evicted us from Scarborough Shoal and prior to the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) arbitration," Roque said.

"At that time, it was important to underscore that a peaceful resolution of the issue must be through the rule of law because we certainly—as is the case until now—no match to China’s military might," Roque added.

But the former lawmaker explained that the case is different now as there is already an arbitral decision noting that "China has no basis to claim any territory on the basis of historic waters and that the area where China’s artificial islands are built form part of our Exclusive Economic Zone."

"That is why I have been supportive of the Duterte administration’s foreign policy. With a decision that is solidly behind us which under International Law is executory and binding on both China and the Philippines, we can move forward on matters that are not controversial such as trade, investment and tourism," Roque said.

In 2016, an international tribunal in The Hague junked China's claims over the West Philippine Sea, ruling in favor of the Philippines.

The Palace spokesman, meanwhile, maintained that talks on territories not subjected to the arbitration can be dealt through bilateral discussions. — BM, GMA News