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Duterte in China not to provoke Beijing over arbitral ruling — PHL ambassador

President Rodrigo Duterte flew to China not to impose on the Asian powerhouse the Philippines’ arbitration victory with regard to their South China Sea disputes, Manila’s Ambassador to Beijing Jose Santiago Sta. Romana said Thursday.

Duterte will be meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping on Thursday night with discussions expected to focus on the status of the bilateral relations and issues including the maritime row.

The Philippine leader had said he would raise with Xi the 2016 decision by The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidating Beijing’s expansive claim to the resource-rich South China Sea and spelled out Manila’s maritime entitlements.

Sta. Romana said Duterte had mentioned the arbitral award in his previous meetings with Xi but not in a “direct or honest discussion.”

The eighth meeting between Duterte and Xi will be an opportunity to talk about the issue in a “very civil and diplomatic” manner, Sta. Romana said.

“He’s not coming here to impose it on China. He's not coming here to provoke the Chinese. He's coming here to exchange views, to understand where the differences lie. And to have a deeper understanding, and to see where there are areas where the gaps can be bridged,” he told reporters in Beijing.

Sta. Romana said Duterte and Xi “have reached quite a high level of rapport that they have become good friends.”

He added that the President “has exerted a lot of diplomatic capital to build a reservoir of goodwill and friendship” with Xi.

“When you are friends, there's nothing we cannot discuss with each other,” the ambassador said.

“So I think in that context, it's not gonna be a shouting match. It's gonna be a very civil and diplomatic discussion.”

Early this month, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua said that Beijing will continue to not recognize the ruling after Duterte said he would bring up the matter in his meeting with Xi.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo responded by insisting that Duterte “will not alter his position on the matter in the same way that the Chinese government as it says will not.”

“We have no illusion that we can solve the issue overnight. I think the important thing is to bring it to the fore of the diplomatic agenda. However, as the saying goes, the disputes do not define the entirety or the totality of the bilateral relations,” Sta. Romana said.  — RSJ, GMA News