Philippines waiting for China’s response on SCS issues

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
Philippines waiting for China�s response on SCS issues
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping did not discuss specific incidents during their bilateral meeting last Thursday but reiterated that disputes could be resolved through negotiations.

MANILA, Philippines — Five days after President Duterte’s China trip, Malacañang is still awaiting Beijing’s response to the Philippines’ diplomatic protests on various issues including Chinese vessels’ swarming around Pag-asa Island and their harvesting of endangered giant clams at Panatag Shoal.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping did not discuss specific incidents during their bilateral meeting last Thursday but reiterated that disputes could be resolved through negotiations.

He said Duterte brought up to Xi the 2016 ruling by an international tribunal invalidating Beijing’s massive claim in the South China Sea, but the Chinese leader reiterated China would never comply with the ruling.

“They repeated their previous stand. But what is more important is that, as stated by the President, there have been irritants because of that ruling. And both of them agree that the mechanism of bilateral relations will be used to resolve the conflict,” Panelo said yesterday.

He admitted the menacing presence of Chinese ships in Philippine waters and the alleged harassment of Filipino fishermen by Chinese forces are “irritants” in the two countries’ relations.

When reminded that China has not stopped being aggressive in the South China Sea despite previous meetings and agreements, Panelo replied: “Wait, we don’t even know yet their stand there (on) the swarming of vessels (in Pag-asa).”

Panelo was referring to military officials’ report that several Chinese ships were seen near Pag-asa, a Philippine-occupied island off the province of Palawan. 

“We filed a protest, right? I do not know their answer, whether they affirmed that or not. The same is true with the clams,” he added.

“The DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) has not confirmed the response to that. Are they going to deny it? Are they going to dispute it or not? I do not know yet their response,” Panelo said. “So let’s wait for their official response with respect to our protest.”

Panelo said the DFA has not transmitted China’s official response to the Palace.

“I’m not the DFA secretary, so I do not have any access to him with respect to that. I have to get an official stand of any response coming from the Chinese government; that has not been transmitted to us as of this day,” the spokesman said.

“What is important, the President is very assertive on our principled stand that that territory is ours.”

Panelo said the Duterte administration would continue to hold bilateral negotiations with Chinese officials to resolve the maritime row. The two countries created a bilateral consultative mechanism in 2017 to discuss the maritime dispute peacefully.

“When you open yourself to negotiation relative to whatever irritants or challenges that are raised in relation to the ruling, then that means both sides did not adopt a hardline stance,” he said.

Pressed if Duterte called for the enforcement of the arbitral ruling during his meeting with Xi, Panelo replied: “What he said was there have been many irritants.”

“By saying that, he was saying, ‘We have a lot of problems here. What will we do? Our position is like this.’ The other side said, ‘This has been our position ever since.’ Then let’s talk about it,” Panelo pointed out.

Panelo said differing views on protests filed by the Philippines would also be discussed bilaterally. He said there is no deadlock in the bilateral talks despite the contrasting views on the arbitral ruling because the issues can be tackled in succeeding negotiations.

When asked if the Philippines should continue to trust China, Panelo said Duterte and Xi had reiterated that their countries are allies.

“As President Xi, and the President of ours agreed, we are allies. Allies strengthen each other. Allies do not destroy each other,” he said.

While the two countries are open to talks, Panelo insisted that the Philippines does not need to seek China’s permission to declare some parts of the West Philippine Sea as marine protected areas.

“As far as we are concerned, that’s ours. You don’t have to ask any consent from anyone,” he said.

In a statement posted on the National Democratic Front website, Communist Party of the Philippines founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison said China should be held accountable for violating Philippine sovereignty and causing damage to the environment.

“China should be sued before the appropriate courts for the violation of sovereign rights of the Filipino people in the West Philippine Sea and demand its withdrawal and payment for the destruction of the marine environment and resources and rent for the duration of its occupation of Panatag Shoal and the artificial islands it has built and militarized,” Sison said.

He called National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. a “traitor and an idiot” for asking China to protect the marine resources in the West Philippine Sea.

“He (Esperon) wants to legitimize China as the bantay salakay of the West Philippines Sea,” Sison said.

“He is obfuscating the fact that China has violated the sovereign rights of the Filipino people over the West Philippine Sea, built and militarized artificial islands, taken over Panatag Shoal, usurped the marine and mineral resources and destroyed these in the West Philippines,” Sison said. –  With Jose Rodel Clapano

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