Mr Duterte issued the remarks at the UN General Assembly, where he appeared virtually. The Philippines President echoed recent statements from the US and other Indo-Pacific nations challenging Beijing’s claim of “sovereignty” over the water body. It marks the latest country to challenge China’s territorial expansion, and is the first time the Philippines have defended a 2016 Hague ruling defending the countries claims to parts of the South China Sea. Beijing strongly rejected the 2016 ruling, claiming it has “no binding force”.
Speaking from the Philippines, Mr Duterte lashed out at China’s “attempts to undermine” the ruling protecting the country’s claims to the South China Sea.
He said: “The Award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish, or abandon.”
The president also welcomed countries supporting the Philippines claims to the region, and said it would remain committed to peaceful resolutions of disputes.
Mr Duterte added: “We welcome the increasing number of states that have come in support of the award and what it stands for – the triumph of reason over rashness, of law over disorder, of amity over ambition.
“This – as it should – is the majesty of the law.”
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Mr Duterte, previously at loggerheads with the UN over its condemnation of the Philippines war on drugs, also hailed the groups coordinated response to the coronavirus pandemic.
But the president also bemoaned global tensions between the West and China, and said: “When elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled flat.
“Given the size and military might of the contenders, we can only imagine and be aghast at the terrible toll on human life and property that shall be inflicted if the “word war” deteriorates into a real war of nuclear weapons and missiles.
“I therefore call on the stakeholders in the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula, the Middle East and Africa: if we cannot be friends as yet, then in God’s name, let us not hate each other too much.”
China has recently moved to defend its illegal claims to the region by deploying massive numbers of People’s Liberation Army soldiers and naval ships in the waters.
Taiwan warned China to “restrain themselves” after Beijing conducted aerial military exercises over the country.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said during a news conference: “I believe these activities are no help to China’s international image, and what’s more have put Taiwan’s people even more on their guard, understanding even better the true nature of the Chinese Communist regime.
“Additionally, other countries in the region also have a better understanding of the threat posed by China.
The US has strongly pushed against Beijing’s claims over the waters in recent months.
At the end of August, Trump administration official Robert O’Brien said China’s claims have been “rejected by all major countries, all seafaring countries” and warned Beijing the US “is not going to back down from its long-held principles that the world’s oceanways and international waters should be free for navigation”.
US Navy ships have frequently been sighted in the region conducting military drills, which has infuriated Beijing.
China has released footage of a simulated attack on a US Air Force base to strike fear into Taiwan’s military.