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Philippines rejects talks with China after arbitration

(The Philippine Star) - July 20, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines has rejected China’s request for talks on the South China Sea dispute because it asked Manila to “disregard” a court ruling on the issue, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said yesterday.

“They asked us to open ourselves for bilateral negotiations but outside of and in disregard of the arbitral ruling. This is something that I told him was not consistent with our Constitution and our national interest,” Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said, referring to his Chinese counterpart.         

Yasay said in an interview with ABS-CBN that he and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi discussed the possibility of bilateral talks on the sidelines of an Asia-Europe summit in Mongolia last weekend but made no headway.

During the meeting, Yasay said the Chinese insisted that the Philippines not make any comment about the ruling.

Yasay said he told Wang that bilateral talks could not be conducted without using the Arbitral Tribunal’s decision as a basis for the meetings.

“We would like to discuss with you how your fishermen would have access in that area, but not in the context of the arbitral tribunal,” Yasay quoted Wang as telling him in Mongolia.

“They said, ‘If you will insist on the ruling, discussing along those lines, then we might be headed for a confrontation’,” he added.

The remark about confrontation, Yasay said, has not only been the line of the Chinese foreign minister but also of Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua when he discussed the South China Sea dispute with him.

The DFA chief said direct talks with China over the maritime flashpoint were unlikely to start anytime soon due to Beijing’s refusal to accept the ruling.

He said President Duterte’s priority was to regain access to Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal for Filipino fishermen.

“We have asked China to exercise restraint and sobriety in this regard, that we maintain the status quo for now in terms of not taking aggressive actions... not coming out with any provocative statements,” he added.

Duterte said the Philippines would not yield its territorial rights in the West Philippine Sea to China, as he vowed to stick to the ruling of the international tribunal on the maritime row.

Duterte gave the assurance during the courtesy call of a US congressional delegation yesterday at Malacañang.

“Just out of a meeting with new Philippine President Duterte. He assured us he has no plans to negotiate with China over island dispute,” Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy posted on Twitter.

Malacañang has yet to confirm Murphy’s tweets.

The meeting was attended by Yasay, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez and Defense Assistant Secretary Raymund Jose Quilop.

Last week, Duterte asked former president Fidel Ramos to talk to Chinese officials, saying the Philippines would continue to resolve the sea dispute through diplomatic means.

Yasay to keep post

Meanwhile, Duterte said he has no plans to remove Yasay as DFA chief and concurrent government spokesman on the sea dispute.

Duterte said Yasay continues to enjoy his trust and that everything he says with regard to foreign policy has his blessing.

“Yasay speaks for me. Everything that he says in public, both national and international, comes from my guidance, and he has my backing and full support,” Duterte said.

Duterte praised Yasay, whom he said agreed to join his government despite his job as an educator.

He said Yasay accepted the post on condition that he would only serve for a few months because of his obligations as professor of universities in the US. – With Jaime Laude

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