Philippines rejects China's offer of direct talks on South China Sea

19 Jul 2016


The Philippines has rejected China's offer of bilateral talks on the South China Sea conflict, after demanding they be conducted outside the ruling by The Hague's Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA).

The Philippines said direct talks with China over the maritime dispute were unlikely to start anytime soon due to Beijing's refusal to accept the international tribunal ruling (See: Tribunal rules against Beijing in South China Sea dispute). "At this point in time, I am not sure whether negotiations can be pursued," Philippine foreign secretary Perfecto Yasay said on Tuesday.

The UN-backed tribunal said last week there was no legal basis for China's claims to most of the strategic, resource-rich waters. Beijing has rejected the verdict, terming it illegal and unjust.

The tribunal ruled that Beijing had violated the Philippines' sovereign rights to exploit resources in waters up to 340 kilometres beyond its coast, called its exclusive economic zone.

The fish-rich Scarborough Shoal, which lies about 230 kilometres from the Philippine coast, is a "traditional fishing ground" that should be open to Filipino, Chinese and other fishermen, the tribunal said.

China seized the shoal in 2012 after a brief stand-off with the Philippine navy. Manila lodged suit at the tribunal the following year.

"China's foreign minister had asked us to open ourselves for bilateral negotiations, but outside, or in disregard of, the arbitral ruling," Philippines' foreign minister Perfecto Yasay said in an interview with state-run broadcaster ABS-CBN.

"This is something I told him was not consistent with our constitution and our national interest," he added.

The Hague court had, on 12 July, ruled in favour of Manila in its territorial dispute in the South China Sea with Beijing, and concluded China has no historic claims over resources in much of the area that it claims.

Yasay said he has spoken to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi during the Asia-Europe meeting in Mongolia, and that the Chinese minister had insisted that Manila make no comment on the PCA decision.

Wang, in fact, had threatened that the two countries "might be headed for a confrontation" if Manila does not change its position.

Yasay stressed that China will have to reconsider its position on the matter and learn to respect the international community, even as he stated that he still believed in the possibility of alternate bilateral negotiations with China.

He also proposed official visits by the President Rodrigo Duterte to China and Xi Jinping to the Philippines to find a political solution to the dispute.

The disputed area of the Scarborough Shoal and part of the Spratly islands - which comprises over 750 reefs, islets, atolls and keys - is also claimed wholly or partially claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam as well.

The South China Sea dispute escalated in recent years amid a rise in Chinese military presence in the area.

Philippines has entered into strategic agreements with the US, Japan and Vietnam to counter Chinese presence in the region.

"Although the Chinese government has dismissed the ill-founded arbitration unilaterally initiated by the Aquino III administration, China remains open to the Philippines, and disputes in South China Sea shouldn't hamper China-ASEAN relations," Zhao Qizheng, former minister of China's State Council Information Office, said on Tuesday.

Zhao made such remarks at the Media briefing on South China Sea following Monday's Think Tank Seminar on South China Sea and Regional Cooperation and Development held in Singapore.

Zhao said China fully understand that ASEAN countries have common interests on the whole, and each country in the region has its own interests, adding, China and ASEAN should maintain friendly exchanges, as well as friendly relations.

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