Sea dispute shouldn’t strain Phl, China ties – envoy
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - February 28, 2017 - 11:30pm

MANILA, Philippines - The relationship between Manila and Beijing should not be made hostage to the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea issue, China’s ambassador said yesterday.

Zhao Jinhua told reporters at Malacañang that the maritime dispute between the Philippines and China only constitutes about one percent of the two countries’ relationship.

“We cannot allow the one percent to take the 99 percent as a hostage. And that is a lose-lose situation,” Zhao said.

“We are glad that after your President’s successful state visit to China, we are now focusing on areas where both sides can benefit,” he added, referring to President Duterte’s visit last year.

China has built artificial islands and structures in disputed areas, sparking worries among other countries – particularly the US – over possible threats to freedom of navigation.

Last week, Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said Southeast Asian ministers had expressed “grave concern” over what they perceived as “militarization” of some areas in the South China Sea.

China frowned upon Yasay’s statement, with Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang describing it as “baffling and regrettable.”

President Duterte claimed the Chinese government “misunderstood” Yasay and stressed that it was not yet time to raise the arbitral ruling favorable to the Philippines.

“Well, I think President Duterte is very wise and also pragmatic,” Zhao said. 

“What is more important by enhancing cooperation in economic, trade, infrastructure, tourism, the Filipino people can benefit more from a good and cooperative relationship with China. So in that sense, I totally agree with your President.”

Zhao said Duterte has also accepted Chinese President Xi Jinping’s invitation to visit Beijing to attend the high-level One Belt, One Road summit in May.

Last year, an arbitral tribunal based in The Hague voided China’s maritime claim covering 90 percent or almost the entire South China Sea and West Philippine Sea. China rejected the ruling, calling it “a mere piece of paper” and “illegal since day one.”

Duterte has said he is ready to set aside the ruling for now to strengthen the Philippines’ relationship with China.

 

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