MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte is ready to address the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea dispute if the issue comes up during his expected two-day visit to Vietnam, a foreign affairs spokesman said on Monday.
”The President will be prepared to discuss the South China Sea issue,” Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Charles Jose said in a press briefing in Malacañang about the President’s official visit to Vietnam set on Wednesday and Thursday.
”It will also be in the context of reaffirming our firm commitment to peaceful settlement of the dispute and adherence to the rule of law,” he said.
China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Taiwan have overlapping claims to the South China Sea.
The DFA official said it is necessary for the Philippines to work bilaterally with China and at the regional level, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) “to build trust and confidence, lower tension, and promoting peace, security, and stability.”
”That’s at the bilateral level and the government. This administration has already made clear that we would like to get into direct talks with China, at the same time, is also to work at the regional level together with ASEAN,” he added.
He said the ASEAN’s centrality would remain a driving force behind the developments in the South China Sea.
Jose said President Duterte would also meet with the Filipino community in Vietnam. There are 3,800 Filipinos in the country.
He said the President and the Vietnamese leaders are also expected to address various areas of bilateral exchanges, including maritime cooperation, enhancement of law enforcement and defense cooperation, increasing two-way commerce and investment, strengthening of joint cultural activities, and heightened cooperation in agriculture and fisheries.
”Moreover, the President’s visit is also an opportunity to solidify the strategic partnership between the two countries,” Jose said.
He said the two leaders would pursue direction and specific activities in line with the vision of the joint statement and establishment of strategic partnership signed in Manila in November 2015.
”The visit will be more of a policy statement… and (a) reiteration of our commitment to this strategic partnership with Vietnam,” he said.
Jose said 2016 marks the 40th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Vietnam.
”The relations between the two countries have been growing and deepening steadily since formal ties were established on July 12, 1976,” he said.
President Duterte and Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc met on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit and Related Summits held on Sept. 6-8 in Vientiane, Laos.
Presidential Communications Office (PCO) Secretary Martin Andanar has said Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea will be officer-in-charge of Malacañang while President Duterte is out of the country.