Trump offers to 'mediate' on South China Sea disputes

The Philippine-claimed Thitu Island off the disputed South China Sea in western Philippines

"I can help mediate and arbitrate".

"We should know what is the conduct that they would like to be", said Duterte.

The Chinese leader, however, would not back down on Beijing's territorial claim, Duterte said, and justified his decision not to immediately demand Chinese compliance with a ruling by a United Nations -linked tribunal that invalidated China's sweeping claims in the South China Sea on historical grounds. Several other Asian nations hold overlapping claims to areas of ocean and shoals, islands and sandbars, making the issue a regional flashpoint.

Mr Trump's offer comes ahead of Chinese president Xi Jinping's attempt to woo Vietnam on the issue in a state visit.

"China is to work with ASEAN countries to maintain peace and stability, as well as development and prosperity in the South China Sea region", Xi told Duterte as quoted by the official Xinhua news agency.

The Chinese leader, however, would not back down on Beijing's territorial claim, Mr Duterte said.

"We have to be friends, the other hotheads would like us to confront China and the rest of the world on so many issues", Duterte said. But economic prospects compel both sides to resolve their differences.

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The South China Sea dispute will be one of the major issues at the East Asia Summit in The Philippines this week.

Tensions in the contested waters have ratcheted up since 2014 as China has turned sandbars into islands, equipping them with airfields, ports and weapons systems and warned USA warships and aircraft to stay away from them.

The Philippines had been the most vigorous critic of Chinese territorial claims, but Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has recently dialed back his country's objections, leaving Vietnam as the leading critic.

He said that Trump and Xi had discussed ways to "prevent mishaps, misunderstandings and miscalculations" in the vital seaway.

The two leaders will again meet in Manila tomorrow for bilateral talks on the sidelines of the Asean summit, the last leg of Mr Trump's 12-day swing across Asia. "The South China Sea is better left untouched, nobody can afford to go to war. For China, this is their time". China bridled against interference by outside countries.

Those islands are capable of serving as military bases, and some of the rival claimants are concerned that China will soon establish de facto control of the waters.

Since coming to office 16 months ago, the firebrand leader has been conciliatory to Beijing, despite a ruling by an global arbitration court favoring the Philippines in its territorial dispute with China.

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