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Manila to play down South China Sea issues to seek cooperation with Beijing

06 January 2017

Momentum was building up in the Philippines' political circles to prevent South China Sea territorial issues from coming in the way of cooperation with Beijing, observers said.

The Manila Times reported on Tuesday that the Philippines and China would initiate talks this year to resolve sensitive issues, including the dispute in the South China Sea.

According to Philippine ambassador-designate to China Jose Sanat Romani, the schedule of the meetings was under discussion and the start of talks would be announced soon.

The talks formed part of the agreement between the Philippines and China during Philippine president Rodrigo Detente's state visit in Beijing in October 2016.

"The dispute will not serve as an obstacle in terms of developing relations. We will separate it so that we grow on a separate track," Santa Romani said at a forum in Manila on Monday.

Duterte had indicated that under his China policy, contentious issues would be discussed one with the use of "quiet diplomacy".

A Philippine lawmaker said on Thursday that the potential joint exploration of the South China Sea by the Philippines and China was allowed under the Philippine Constitution.

"The idea of coming to mutual agreement over natural resources is constitutional and has been beneficial in the past," representative Harry Roque said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Philippines would push for the completion of the framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea when it hosted this year's summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) amid China's militarisation of the disputed waters.

Though the Philippines had scored a victory over China in the matter of China's claim to nearly all of the South China Sea in the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, it would not be included in the summit agenda as the ruling was already part of international law, according to foreign undersecretary Enrique Manalo.

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