The Philippines and China’s dispute on South China Sea ownership could be “set aside” and not affect the two countries’ bilateral relations on trade and investments, Malacañang said on Thursday.

Palace spokesman Harry Roque made the statement after President Rodrigo Duterte affirmed the Philippines’ arbitral win against China over the South China Sea in his first address to the United Nations (UN).

Duterte told the UN General Assembly that the arbitral award was part of international law, “beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon,” and that the Philippines would “firmly reject” attempts to undermine it.

Roque expressed confidence that the two countries could set aside the dispute and focus on matters repairable in the near future.

“We will move on matters that we could move forward on including trade and investments; and we will, for the time being, set this aside because I don’t think the resolution of the territorial dispute is forthcoming in our lifetime,” he said.

Roque said Duterte’s statement was not a “strong message,” but rather a restatement of an old policy.

“Kampanya pa lang po, sinabi ni Presidente, hindi niya isu-surrender ang maski isang inch ng ating teritoryo, so iyan po ay pagiging consistent lamang na wala po tayong ipamimigay na teritoryo at paninindigan po natin iyong ating panalo sa UN Tribunal of the Law of the Sea,” he said. John Ezekiel J. Hirro