Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Thursday (29 December) that he would consider challenging China and insist on an international tribunal ruling if Beijing extracts off oil or gas from Manila's territory in the disputed South China Sea.

He has taken a U-turn on the Philippine's stand where he had earlier pronounced to "set aside" the 12 July verdict by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, because he did not want to impose the ruling on China.

In a television interview with CNN Philippines, he reiterated that he wanted to avoid confrontation with China. But when asked under what circumstances he would bring up the tribunal ruling with China, the firebrand leader said: "When the minerals are already being siphoned out."

If that happens, he said he would tell China that: "I thought we're friends? We share economic bounties ... so how about us? I have this title, so what do you think? Don't you think we should talk now?"

He likened it to children arguing over inheritance.

"The wealth that comes out there, it is like inheritance when your father and mother dies, that is a mess," the tough-talking president said.

He downplayed concerns about Beijing's militarisation in the South China Sea and remained unaffected by its dredging or reclamation work on the reefs, several of which were within the Philippine's territory.

The Filipino leader added that if at all China's military aggressiveness in the hotly disputed waterway posed a serious threat then the US would have attempted to thwart Beijing's activities "right at the beginning, when the first spade of soil was tossed out to the area that was being reclaimed".

He stressed that until China intervenes in Manila's territory for extracting minerals, he has no intention of aggressively pursuing his country's maritime claims. He added that only the US has the power to take China.

"Why raise an issue putting the countries into distress or under stress when you are not going to do anything, when it is you who have the arms?" AP cited Duterte as saying.

China, which refused to recognise or accept the tribunal ruling, is pitted against smaller neighbours in multiple disputes over coral reefs, islands and lagoons in the mineral-rich waterway, where $5tn maritime trade passes through every year.

Philippines Rodrigo Duterte drug killings
Duterte played down concerns about Beijing’s militarisation in the South China Sea and said if it was really a serious concern, then the US should lead the way and stop it Czar Dancel/Reuters