"Remember that I said before that there will be a time when I will invoke that arbitral ruling," Salvador Panelo, a presidential spokesperson asked at a press briefing in Manila, quoting Duterte.
Duterte refers to a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague which gave Manila a legal victory three years ago by rejecting Beijing's claims to economic rights across large portions of the South China Sea.
However, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said that China-Philippines relations have experienced a turnaround since 2016 when Duterte verbally agreed to allow both nations access to fishing areas in each other’s controlled waters of the disputed sea.
The Chinese government refers to the relationship between the two countries as upgraded to a “comprehensive strategic cooperation.” Both countries agreed to adhere to the Code of Conduct (COC) in the waterway.
Yet many criticize Duterte “reorienting” his foreign policy away from the United States and towards China. As the head of state has affirmed his belief that China is “encouraging” trade amongst both nations, some Filipinos want a tougher stand to their super-power neighbor.
In the meantime, Duterte’s spokesperson said that the government was interested in furthering talks about a "60/40" joint venture to explore offshore energy reserves inside the Philippines Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Chinese and Filipino officials say they will continue to cooperate on the One Belt, One Road initiative.