By Roy Ramos & Hader Glang
ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines (AA) - Philippines President-elect Rodrigo Duterte announced Wednesday that he told United States President Barack Obama that he would consider holding bilateral talks with China if efforts regarding the Asian countries’ sea dispute failed to progress.
Duterte said that Obama called him Tuesday night to congratulate him on his landslide win in the May 9 election and they spoke about tensions in the South China Sea -- which Manila calls the West Philippine Sea.
"I assured him [Obama] that we will continue with our mutual interests and that we are allied with the Western [world] in this issue on China Sea," GMA News quoted him as saying.
“But I gave him an inkling that, well, I would agree to just go with you,” the outspoken mayor of southern Davao City added. "But if it goes on still waters, I said, there's no wind to move the sail, I might opt to go bilateral."
He said Obama recommended that Duterte first "wait for the result of the arbitration [case]" the Philippines has lodged in The Hague over the territorial dispute in the resource-rich region.
The international court’s ruling is expected later this year, but Beijing refuses to recognize the case.
Duterte expressed that he is honored to have received a call from the U.S. leader.
During campaigning last month, Duterte had offered to jet ski to a disputed area of the sea and plant the nation’s flag on China’s reclaimed airport.
China claims almost all of the maritime area. Aside from the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.
China's reclamation work in the region, which includes the building of airfields on some disputed islands, has prompted the U.S. and its allies to express alarm over the maritime expansion, which they suspect is aimed at extending its military reach.
Earlier this month, a U.S. guided missile destroyer sailed near a reef in the sea’s disputed Spratly Islands chain, after the U.S. navy conducted "freedom of navigation" operations in the waters in October -- a move Beijing had called “provocative”.