Reuters International

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during a news conference in Davao city, southern Philippines August 21, 2016. Picture taken August 21, 2016. REUTERS/Lean Daval Jr


By Manuel Mogato

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday he expects talks with China on their South China Sea dispute within a year and he would not raise an international ruling rejecting China's claims there when he attends a regional summit next month.

An arbitration court in the Hague infuriated China in July when it ruled that China had no historical title over the South China Sea and it had breached the Philippines' sovereign rights with various actions there.

Raising the issue at a summit in Laos of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, together with its "dialogue partners" including China, the United States and Japan, would inevitably compound China's anger.

Duterte, speaking to reporters at the presidential palace in Manila, said it was "better to continually engage China in a diplomatic dialogue rather than anger officials there".

Asked about a date for bilateral talks, he said: "Within the year".

China claims almost the entire South China Sea through which about $5 trillion worth of sea-borne trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the sea believed to be rich in oil and gas.

Duterte said the Philippines had no intention of raising the arbitration ruling during the summit, though adding: "But, if somebody dwells on it, we will discuss, but for the Philippines, we have talks."

If formal negotiations with China were to fall through, "where do we go?" he asked.

A former Philippine president, Fidel Ramos, travelled to the southern Chinese city of Hong Kong this month in an effort to rekindle damaged ties with Beijing.

While there, Ramos said the Philippines wanted talks with China to explore a path to peace and cooperation.

Duterte said his government wanted to talk to China so Philippine fishermen could return to the disputed Scarborough Shoal fishing ground.

In 2012, China seized the shoal, denying Philippine fishermen access and prompting Manila to file the arbitration case.

China has ignored the court's ruling that none of its reefs and holdings in the Spratly Islands entitled it to a 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

Chinese construction on some of the reefs it controls in the South China Sea has alarmed other claimants as well as countries further afield such as Philippine allies the United States and Japan.

China says its aims are peaceful and it has the right to do what it wants on its territory.

(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Robert Birsel)


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