Philippine President Duterte courts Russia in blow to US

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China on Monday sidestepped claims by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte that it had threatened to go to war over the disputed South China Sea.

Duterte, who met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing last week, said Friday the leaders had raised conflict as an option to resolving their competing claims to the waters.

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said their meeting was frank and friendly, and the discussion was largely about preventing conflict, not threatening it.

"In the guise of human rights, countries like the European Union and America are interfering in the affairs of other nations", for example with claims of thousands of extrajudicial killings in his crackdown on drugs. "There was mutual respect, there was mutual trust", Cayetano told reporters. "But if you force the issue, we will go to war". "At the same time, these matters are pursued in the context of maintaining peace and prosperity in the region", Abella said.

He added: "I will not contradict the president's words".

"I will also tell them that your Government continues to work very hard to give you the country and future you all deserve", he said.

Mr Duterte made no mention of the issue during a news briefing yesterday before he left for Russian Federation.

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An global court ruled last July that China had no historic rights to resources in waters claimed by the Philippines in a case brought by Duterte's predecessor Benigno Aquino. The Philippines can file a case at the United Nations if China has indeed threatened war against it.

He said in a statement: "The threat of China to go to war against the Philippines if the Philippines extracts oil and gas in the Reed Bank, or in any area within the Philippine EEZ (exclusive economic zone) in the West Philippine Sea, is a gross violation of the United Nations Charter, UNCLOS, and the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia to which China and the Philippines are parties".

Duterte's rivals have likened his refusal to insist that China abide by the ruling as akin to surrendering sovereignty.

In a sign of warming bilateral ties, the two countries will set up offices of their defence attaches in each other's capitals, Natividad said.

The President has also sought closer ties with China to win billions of dollars of Chinese investments and loans, while loosening the Philippines' long-standing alliance with the US.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on Saturday urged the government to file another worldwide arbitration case over the reported Chinese threat, and also lodge a complaint with the United Nations.

Meanwhile, Cayetano's predecessor Albert del Rosario said the administration should follow Carpio's twin suggestions that it protest Xi's bellicose pronouncement before the United Nations and revisit a joint maritime patrol arrangement with the USA and other allies.