Trump offers to mediate in South China Sea dispute

Casey Dawson
November 13, 2017

Manila: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday the South China Sea dispute, involving China and five other claimants including the Philippines, was "better left untouched".

Various sectoral groups staged a protest near the US embassy here on November 10, the second day in a row, in anticipation of the first visit by US President Donald Trump in time for the Asean summit on November 12.

In Vietnam on Thursday on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific economic summit, Duterte boasted that when he was 16 he stabbed to death someone for looking at him the wrong way.

"If I can help mediate or arbitrate, please let me know", Mr Trump said. He added that he is "a very good mediator and arbitrator".

The controversial issue was also understood to have figured in a meeting of officials from India, the US, Japan, and Australia under the proposed Quadrilateral coalition of the four countries.

On Monday, the 31st ASEAN Summit and Related Summits will be officiated by Duterte at the Cultural Centre of the Philippines before the leaders gather at the Philippine International Convention Centre for a series of meetings, including the 40th anniversary of ASEAN-US Dialogue Relations. Trump told Duterte in a telephone call in April that he was doing a "great job" with his campaign against drugs.

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Duterte said earlier in the week that he planned to ask China to make clear its intentions in the South China Sea.

The territorial tensions in the South China Sea center on Beijing claiming virtually all of the sea to be its territorial waters, claims that have been vigorously disputed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.

Trump headed to Manila later yesterday for the final stop on his marathon Asia tour that has mainly focused on building regional consensus against North Korea's nuclear ambitions and espousing his "America First" vision of global trade.

"And although I would suppose it would be safe to assume that the discussion on West Philippine Sea will take place because in the remark of the US President, he also said that the interest of the United States is to maintain freedom of navigation "in crucial waterways", Roque said. The South China Sea will likely be a hot topic throughout the summit, as most claimants will be attending.

Ahead of the annual summit of the ASEAN, an influential grouping of 10 South East Asian countries, a number of diplomats said the thorny issue of China's aggressive military buildup in the South China Sea may be one of the focus areas of the deliberations on Tuesday.

The framework seeks to advance a 2002 Declaration of Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea.

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