Chinese coastguards prevented a Filipino fishing boat from entering the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea on July 14, according to a Filipino broadcaster. Photo: AP
THE Philippines rejected China’s request for talks on their South China Sea dispute because it asked Manila to “disregard” a court ruling on the issue, the foreign minister said Tuesday.
A UN-backed tribunal said last week there was no legal basis for China’s claims to most of the strategic, resource-rich waters, with Beijing staunchly denouncing the decision.
“They asked us also to open ourselves for bilateral negotiations but outside of and in disregard of the arbitral ruling, so this is something that I told him was not consistent with our constitution and our national interest,” Perfecto Yasay said.
The foreign secretary, interviewed by broadcaster ABS-CBN, said he and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi discussed the possibility of bilateral talks on the sidelines of an Asia-Europe summit in Mongolia last weekend but made no headway.
The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled Beijing had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights to exploit resources in waters up to 340 kilometres beyond its coast, called its exclusive economic zone.
The fish-rich Scarborough Shoal, which lies about 230 kilometres from the Philippine coast, is a “traditional fishing ground” that should be open to Filipino, Chinese and other fishermen, the tribunal said.
“We would like to discuss with you how your (Filipino) fishermen would have access in that area, but not in the context of the arbitral tribunal (decision),” 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’,” the Filipino minister said in the interview.
He said direct talks with China over the maritime flashpoint were unlikely to start anytime soon due to Beijing’s refusal to accept the ruling.
Yasay also said Tuesday President Rodrigo Duterte’s “first and foremost” priority was to regain access to the Scarborough Shoal for Filipino fishermen.
“Let’s do it one step at a time. Let’s manage it on that basis,” Yasay added. “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,” Yasay added.
Duterte said last week that he would send former president Fidel Ramos to China to start talks on the ruling.
However Yasay said he did not know if Ramos would accept and did not know when that mission could be dispatched.
“Let the dust settle some more and let’s see how we can open up the road for this kind of negotiation,” Yasay added.
Beijing, which justifies its extensive claims by saying it was the first to have discovered, named and exploited the sea, has said the tribunal ruling cannot be the basis of any discussions.
China seized the shoal in 2012 after a brief stand-off with the Philippine navy. Manila lodged suit at the tribunal the following year.
In the long term, Yasay said Manila had not ruled out the possibility of giving China a role as a contractor when the government moves to exploit the resources, including natural gas, in its exclusive economic zone.