Philippines eyes talks with China sans preconditions

Jose Katigbak - The Philippine Star

WASHINGTON – The Philippines is quietly making arrangements through diplomatic channels for bilateral talks with China without any preconditions to discuss their competing claims in the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said.

 “The important thing is that we talk,” he told Filipino community members at a meeting in the Philippine embassy in Washington on Friday.

The inadequately armed Philippine military cannot fight China in any battle and this is why President Duterte ordered the Navy not to conduct joint patrols in the South China Sea with the US, he said.

He said joint patrols could be seen by China as a provocative act, making it more difficult to peacefully resolve territorial problems.

A day earlier Yasay told a forum at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies the country was not yet prepared to hold discussions with China.

Beijing has said it can only talk with Manila outside the framework of the ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague that declared as invalid China’s extensive claim in the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea. The ruling also reaffirmed the Philippines’ rights over several contested reefs, shoals and islands.

“Our position has been we will not engage them in talks outside the framework of the tribunal ruling. We are now engaged in the process of making sure these bilateral talks will happen,” Yasay said.

He said the relationship between the two countries was not limited to the maritime dispute. There were other areas of concern in such fields as investment, trade and tourism and discussing them could open the door for talks on the maritime issue.

Referring to newspaper reports of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, Yasay lamented that some rights groups abroad have picked this up without doing their own verification.

He said of about 3,000 people reported killed in the drug war since Duterte took office on June 30, official investigations have shown about 900 were killed in legitimate police operations against drug lords and pushers.

The other cases are still under investigation but according to initial findings some are victims of vigilante group or victims of the fight for supremacy between rival drug groups, Yasay said.

He said there was need for human rights group to validate the reports of extrajudicial killings before condemning the government for human right violations.

Newspaper reports should never be used as basis for concluding that extrajudicial killings are happening, he said.

He reminded his audience that President Duterte won the presidency on the platform of intensified campaign against illegal drugs and criminality.

Present at the embassy meeting were a small group of Filipino migrant workers who expressed their support for Duterte and called on Yasay to help about 300 Filipino victims of human traffickers in the US.

The official promised to look into the matter as another small group of workers rallied outside the embassy carrying placards calling for an end to human trafficking.

Yasay visited Washington en route to New York to attend the 71st session of the UN General Assembly. He had no meetings with US government officials.

Washington views Duterte with suspicion because of his intimidating reaction to US officials’ reminding him of his duty to uphold human rights.


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