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South China Sea: Philippines rejects Chinese conditions to talk

China seized Scarborough Shoal -- known as Huangyan Dao in Chinese -- in 2012 after a brief stand-off with the Philippine navy. Manila lodged suit at the tribunal the following year. Photograph: (Getty)

AFP Manila, Philippines Jul 19, 2016, 12.29 PM (IST)
The Philippines has turned down a Chinese proposal to intiate bilateral talks on their South China Sea dispute, citing Beijing's pre-condition of not discussing a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that nullified most of its claims. 

Manila has rejected Beijing's demand that it "disregard" the international ruling that invalidated the Asian giant's claims to much of the South China Sea before proceeding to the negotiating table.

Following the decision, Beijing asked Manila, which brought the case, "to open ourselves for bilateral negotiations but outside of and in disregard of the arbitral ruling", foreign minister Perfecto Yasay told broadcaster ABS-CBN.

Philippines foreign minister Perfecto Yasay said the meeting only goes to prove that discussions on the territorial dispute in the South China Sea was a no-go area, with China's current stand.

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

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of trade moves annually. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have made rival claims.

The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) had ruled that Beijing had violated the Philippines' sovereign right to exploit resources in waters up to 340 kilometres (230 miles) beyond its coast, called its exclusive economic zone.

It said there was no legal basis to China's claims to much of the sea embodied in a "nine-dash line" dating from 1940s maps.

Yasay's comments were more forceful than previous Philippine reactions, with its new President Rodrigo Duterte keen to restore relations with Beijing and promising not to "taunt or flaunt" the verdict.

China had angrily rejected the verdict by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague and termed the initial case as illegal and farcical. It has refused to compromise from its approach or its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.

"They (China) said if you will insist on the ruling, discussing it along those lines, then we might be headed for a confrontation," Yasay said during an interview with the news channel of broadcaster ABS-CBN.

World leaders urge China to respect Hague ruling 

At an Asia-Europe summit in Mongolia at the weekend, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and European Union President Donald Tusk took China to task for its refusal to respect the decision.

Philippines fears several challenges lie ahead in getting China to comply with the decision which has ramped up tensions in the vital trade route.

"But I really honestly feel that this is something they have to make on a public basis, but I also sensed there was room for us to talk very quietly using backdoor channelling," expressing hope of finding a resolution to the long-standing dispute.

Direct talks were unlikely soon in the light of Beijing's refusal to accept the ruling, Yasay said

'Let the dust settle' 

On Tuesday, China launched war games in waters some distance north of the contested area.

Beijing has built a series of artificial islands in the sea capable of supporting military operations, and a top Chinese military official told a visiting US admiral this week that it would "never stop our construction" prematurely.

The project has raised concerns that Beijing may seek to hamper the free movement of ships and aircraft through the region, and may even create an air defence identification zone over the sea, which would seek to put restrictions on foreign planes.

A combat air patrol was mounted over the sea recently and they will become a regular practice in future, an air force spokesman said separately, according to the official news agency Xinhua.

China seized Scarborough Shoal -- known as Huangyan Dao in Chinese -- in 2012 after a brief stand-off with the Philippine navy. Manila lodged suit at the tribunal the following year.

China's coastguard was preventing Filipino boats from fishing around Scarborough Shoal, fishermen and officials said on Friday, and China's air force has released pictures showing bombers recently flying over the area.

Duterte's "first and foremost" priority was to regain access to Scarborough Shoal for Filipino fishermen, Yasay said.

The new President said last week that he would send former president Fidel Ramos to China to start talks on the ruling, but Yasay did not know if Ramos would accept and did not know when that mission could be dispatched.

"Let the dust settle some more and let's see how we can open up the road for this kind of negotiation," Yasay added.
In the long term, he said, Manila had not ruled out the possibility of giving China a role as a contractor when the government moves to exploit the resources, including natural gas, in its exclusive economic zone.


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