Philippines hopes for 'soft landing' in sea dispute with China

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines hopes for a “soft landing” in a dispute with China over the South China Sea when the arbitration court in The Hague delivers its ruling, President Rodrigo Duterte said on Thursday after he was sworn in.

China claims almost all the South China Sea, where about $5 trillion worth of trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim the sea believed to have rich deposits of oil and gas.

The Philippines brought a case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration against China’s “excessive” claim to the waters. China had refused to recognize the case. A ruling is expected on July 12.

Philippine Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay said he had rejected suggestions to issue a strong statement against China if the decision goes Manila’s way.

“I am averse to that idea,” Perfecto Yasay told Duterte’s first Cabinet meeting, saying the government would study the “implications and ramifications” of the decision first.

Duterte said there should be “a soft landing”.

“God knows, I really don’t want to declare any fighting with anyone,” he said.

(This story has been refiled to correct the attribution of the quote in the first and last paragraphs)

Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Nick Macfie