Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte says Chinese President Xi Jinping threatened him with war if the Philippines begins drilling for oil in a disputed part of the South China Sea.

Duterte said Friday in Manila that Xi gave him a firm but friendly warning when they met in Beijing on Monday. The Philippine head of state said he told Xi his island nation intended to enforce an international arbitration ruling and begin searching for oil in a part of the South China Sea that Beijing claims as its exclusive property.

Paraphrasing his conversation with Xi, Duterte said he told the Chinese president: “We intend to drill [for] oil there. If it’s yours, well, that’s your view; but my view is, I can drill the oil, if there is some inside the bowels of the Earth, because it’s ours.”

Duterte’s speech Friday appeared to be intended to silence domestic critics who have accused him of failing to press the maritime territorial dispute.

He continued with his account of the meeting with Xi: “His response to me [was], ‘We’re friends. We don’t want to quarrel with you. We want to maintain the present warm relationship. But if you force the issue, we’ll go to war.’ ”

Account may upset China

Political observers said Duterte’s frank account of the conversation in the Chinese capital could infuriate China.

Ironically, the Philippine president’s remarks came on the same day that China and the Philippines opened talks on the mainland aimed at resolving their South China Sea dispute. The two sides said they agreed to seek “mutually acceptable approaches” to settling disputes that divided them.

The talks in Guiyang, in southwestern China, included discussion of the arbitration ruling last year that invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claims of South China Sea sovereignty. The Philippines’ ambassador to China, Jose Santiago Romana, said the delegates “touched on it [but] didn’t dwell on it.”

Officials meet in Beijing

And in Beijing Friday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met with a senior political figure from the Philippines, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, and called for continued improvement of the two nations’ relations.

The ruling last July by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague voided China’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea and declared China had infringed on the traditional rights of Philippine fishing boats in the area.

China has ignored the ruling and insisted that any maritime disputes in the area must be resolved bilaterally, by the countries directly concerned, not through international bodies.

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