16:34 GMT20 June 2021
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    Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has asked his defense chief to move the site of a joint naval drill with the United States away from the disputed South China Sea, Reuters reported citing a pertinent statement issued by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

    "We might move the naval exercises facing the South China Sea to Mindanao area to avoid annoying our neighbor [China], so let us be sensitive of our neighbors," Lorenzana told reporters during a military ceremony on Friday.

    The decision has been seen by many as Manila’s attempt to repair its strained ties with Beijing.

    Chinese-Filipino relations soured in 2013 after the Philippines lodged an appeal with an international tribunal in The Hague over China's claim to large parts of the South China and East China Seas, which are also claimed by Japan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

    On July 12, the Permanent Court of Arbitration overwhelmingly backed the Philippines ruling that the disputed territories of the Spratly archipelago claimed by China are not islands and, therefore, cannot be used as the basis of territorial claims.

    It also said that some of the areas in question are “within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.”

    Beijing, which has been building and fortifying artificial islands in the area, refused to recognize the court ruling.

    Duterte, who is keen not to wants to avoid antagonizing China, said on Thursday  that he was in no rush to  pressing Beijing to abide by the Hague court’s decision.

    Since taking office in June, Duterte has said more than once that he will end joint exercises between US and Filipino troops, and has courted favor with China and Russia.

    In a recent outburst, the Philippine leader said China had "the kindest soul of all" for offering what he called was significant financial assistance.

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