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Yasay: Philippines-China talks based on tribunal's decision may not happen in our lifetime

Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said that the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the Philippines' case against China would have be put in the backburner for now.  Philstar.com/Efigenio Toledo IV, File

MANILA, Philippines — Bilateral talks based on the decision of an arbitral tribunal on the Philippines' case against China may not happen, the country's top diplomat said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said that the Philippine government is hoping that President Rodrigo Duterte will bring up the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping but "there is also a possibility that perhaps it may not happen in our lifetime."

"But what is important is that the conflict in the South China Sea is not the sum total of our relationship with China. There are other aspects of our relationship that must be pushed," Yasay said in an interview with CNN Philippines' "The Source" earlier this week.

The Philippines' top diplomat noted that areas of trade, investment, commerce, infrastructure development, people-to-people contact and cultural exchange should also be improved between the two countries.

Yasay said that the maritime dispute over the South China Sea is only a small of the relationship between the Philippines and China.

"That one will have to be put in the back burner although there are initiatives on the basis of what has been agreed," Yasay said when asked about bilateral talks between Manila and Beijing.

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The Foreign Affairs secretary revealed that Duterte brought up the issue to Xi during his state visit to China but the latter refused to resolve the issue based on the arbitral tribunal's decision.

"So we decided to put this in the backburner and without compromising and eroding our rights we also recognize that there is no implementing reinforcement arm with respect to the arbitral tribunal's decision except to insist and to use force," Yasay said.

Yasay stressed that the Philippines cannot go to war against China.

"Even the 1982 [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] provides for the means for which the enforcement will be made and that is through bilateral negotiations, bilateral agreement with the parties involved, by the counter-claimants involved," the Foreign Affairs chief said.

Filipino fishermen have been allowed to access to the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea after Duterte's state visit to China.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed that Beijing has made "proper arrangement" regarding the disputed shoal after Duterte expressed concern about the matter.

Duterte has proposed to declare Panatag shoal a marine sanctuary. This would ban fishing all fishing activities inside the area but not around it.

RELATED: China mum on Duterte's proposal to declare Panatag a sanctuary

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