DFA chief eyes special envoy for back-channel talks with China
Patricia Lourdes Viray (philstar.com) - July 5, 2016 - 12:13am

MANILA, Philippines — Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said that a special envoy might be appointed for back-channel talks with China following the decision of a United Nations (UN) tribunal on the South China Sea dispute.

"Yes, there is a need for a special envoy to probably help us, assist us, maybe in reaching out on a back-channel basis in trying to resolve these disputes," Yasay said in an interview with ANC's Top Story on Monday.

In 2012, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV initiated back-channel talks with China. President Rodrigo Duterte said that the talks resulted in the Philippines losing control over Scarborough Shoal.

The back-channel talks, authorized by President Benigno Aquino III, was meant to defuse tension because of a standoff between Philippine and Chinese ships near the shoal, which is a traditional fishing ground for Filipino fishers and which Manila claims as part of the Est Philippine Sea.

Yasay stressed that the government should study the implications of the arbitral ruling first before making any statement or taking immediate action.

"My position on the matter would be that let's wait for the ruling and then make a definite stand and position on it," Yasay said.

The Foreign Affairs secretary noted that there is a need for a multilateral approach if the decision of the international tribunal will involve the rights of other claimants to the disputed sea.

However, if the ruling will involve just the Philippines and China, the country will enter into bilateral negotiations with Beijing.

In 2015, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who has been lecturing on the South China Sea Dispute, warned that entering negotiations with China might invalidate the arbitration case.

"Actually we asked them to sit down several times for several years but every time we sit down with China, they said 'We have nothing to discuss because we have indisputable sovereignty,'" Carpio explained then.


Yasay hopes for unified ASEAN position


Yasay said that he hopes "that the members of the ASEAN will take a unified position once the decision of the arbitral tribunal comes out. With the unified position, we could really bear pressure on China to respect the decision," Yasay said.

Yasay reiterated that the Philippines will respect the decision of the tribunal despite China's refusal to participate in the proceedings.

"It is very important for us to not gloat in our trials, our victory, but see how we can cooperate together and see how we could help each other in making sure that the decision of the international tribunal will be respected, especially so that we have proclaimed to everyone that we will be respecting the rule of law," the Foreign Affairs secretary said.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration of the UN is set to issue its ruling on the Philippines' arbitration case against China on July 12.

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