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US concerned over Philippines' sea row agenda, says Yasay

In this Sept. 19, 2016 photo, Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay addresses audience at the United Nations Refugee Summit at the UN Headquarters in New York City. AP

MANILA, Philippines — United States officials were concerned over the Philippines' next steps on the dispute over the South China Sea, but the Philippines is not keen on discussions with other parties besides China, Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay said on Tuesday.

Recounting his meeting with Washington officials, Yasay said he assured them that Manila works within the bounds of the ruling of the international arbitral tribunal on the maritime row to move forward.

"They were concerned about the fact that maybe perhaps that we were going to erode whatever gains that we have achieved insofar as the arbitral tribunal ruling is concerned," Yasay said at a press briefing following his trip to the US.

"And I assured them that no, in fact that our president has made it very clear that because of the ruling of the arbitral tribunal, the legal basis of our claim has been further strengthened," he added.

Duterte's government has been forging a foreign policy that is relatively distant from the US while cozying with China. Yasay said the dispute over the sea lanes is one between the Philippines and its Asian neighbor.

"I told them that at this point in time, it is not in our national interests that we pursue multilateral negotiations with other countries who are not involved insofar as our dispute with China is concerned," Yasay said.

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Yasay said he did not bring up the topic of the sea row at the meeting, but US officials wanted to put it on the table. He said involving other parties in the "multilateral negotiations" will further "complicate the issues."

"It will have the tendency to bring about other concerns of other countries that will prevent the peaceful settlement of our own. Because particularly our dispute with China, insofar as our 200-mile exclusive economic zone is concerned is simply a dispute with China and the Philippines," the country's top diplomat said.

The US has repeatedly said that while it does not take any sides in the dispute, the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, where most of the world's trade passes, is among its key interests abroad as a Pacific power.

China has repeatedly insisted in its official statements that the US is not a party to the dispute and rejected the arbitral tribunal ruling. Meanwhile, it continues to maintain man-made islands on parts of the waterway within the Philippines' maritime zones.

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