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Yasay: Philippines not ready for bilateral talks with China

"Even as we would like to forge closer relationship with our neighbors... it does not necessarily mean that forging closer relationship with one is alienating the other. And this is precisely what [President Rodrigo Duterte] means in the context of saying that we must pursue an independent foreign policy and that is what our constitution mandates and to pursue amity with all nations," Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said during a security forum in Washington. AP/Bullit Marquez

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines is not yet prepared to hold bilateral discussions with China to resolve the South China Sea dispute, Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said.

At a security forum in Washington, the country's top diplomat said the two countries can only sit down for bilateral engagements unless they are both prepared to discuss the matter.

"To begin with, we cannot proceed on engaging China in bilateral talks where China says that we can only talk outside of the framework of the arbitral tribunal's decision," Yasay said in a forum organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

China has refused to respect the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration that it does not have legal basis for its nine-dash line claim over the disputed waters.

The arbitral tribunal also ruled that China violated its commitment to the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea when it constructed artificial islands in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

Yasay, however, noted that the Philippine government would like to continue engaging with China to pursue other interests such as trade, investment and infrastructure development.

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The Philippines' top diplomat noted that the relationship between the Philippines and China is not limited to the maritime dispute.

"Of course, the natural effect of engaging China in other areas of concern will precisely open the door for more open discussions of the dispute with the view of resolving the dispute peacefully," Yasay said.

Meanwhile, former President Fidel Ramos should go into a more official basis as a special envoy in connection to the concerns of the two nations.

Ramos met with his old friends in Hong Kong to express the desire of the Philippines to hold formal discussions with China on issues of mutual concern and interest.

The Foreign Affairs chief clarified that forging stronger ties with China would not necessarily mean alienating other nations.

"This is precisely what [President Rodrigo Duterte] means in the context of saying that we must pursue an independent foreign policy and that is what our constitution mandates and to pursue amity with all nations," Yasay said.

The president earlier said that he prefers holding talks with China to settle the South China Sea dispute rather than having a fight.

"Philippines to fight China? It will be slaughter. So we talk, we cannot match," Duterte said.

RELATED: Yasay in US: Don't lecture us on human rights

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