BEIJING—Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Wednesday he wasn’t planning to pursue substantive talks on the South China Sea disputes during meetings with top Chinese leaders this week, as he seeks to reset Manila’s once-fractious ties with Beijing.
Speaking to reporters in Beijing a day before a scheduled meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Mr. Duterte said he would focus on seeking Chinese economic aid during his state visit, setting aside their countries’ discord over overlapping territorial and maritime claims.
If the Chinese leadership wishes to discuss the disputes, “we can set the broad lines, but there will be no hard impositions. There will be no asking of concessions,” said Mr. Duterte, who arrived in Beijing late Tuesday to start a four-day visit.
Rather than raising issues that would damage Manila’s “goodwill” with Beijing, “we will be asking for the help of China,” Mr. Duterte said, such as the provision of “soft loans.”
Mr. Duterte has given conflicting signals on what message he would bring to Beijing and said last weekend that he would raise the July arbitration ruling during his visit to China.
The latest comments by Mr. Duterte, who took office just over 100 days ago, underscored his administration’s escalating efforts to mend ties with China, which soured in 2012 when Beijing took control of Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing area in the South China Sea that is claimed by both governments, some 125 miles west of the former U.S. Navy base at Subic Bay.
His efforts have thrown Manila’s longstanding relationship with Washington into question, striking a blow to American prestige and potentially undercutting U.S.-led efforts to check China’s rising influence in the Asia-Pacific region.
While the U.S. has pressed China to comply with an international tribunal ruling in July that rejected Beijing’s claims to economic and historic rights in the South China Sea, Mr. Duterte has shied from putting such pressure on China, even though the ruling represented a legal win for Manila in a case brought by his predecessor. China denounces the ruling as illegitimate.
In his Wednesday remarks, Mr. Duterte said his government reserves the right to bring up the tribunal ruling with China, but he didn’t plan to actively do so during this week’s state visit.
“I have to be courteous,” Mr. Duterte said. Even so, he said: “There will come a time when we will have to talk about it.”
Chinese officials have welcomed Mr. Duterte’s rhetoric. At a regular news briefing earlier Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that “China and the Philippines are returning to the rightful approach of using bilateral dialogue and consultations to resolve disputes in the South China Sea, in the manner that friendly neighbors should behave when interacting with each other.”
Chinese officials meanwhile have expressed enthusiasm for discussing the expansion of trade and investment links with the Philippines, as well as the strengthening of bilateral cooperation in drug control and infrastructure construction, among other areas.
Write to Chun Han Wong at email@example.com