CANBERRA, Australia – Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said he met with China’s Ambassador Liu Janchao before the government issued its statement on Chinese activity in the waters and islands east of Palawan, and they agreed to disagree.
"I said to him, this is our position. We want to be clear about it, we want to be specific," Del Rosario said, in what he said was his first interview since issuing the statement.
"If there’s disagreement, let’s agree to disagree, just as I disagree with their position," Del Rosario said in Canberra, where he and Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo are meeting their counterparts and Australian and Philippine businessmen. "That said, let’s agree to keep the lines of communication open and continue a dialogue. We understood each other perfectly.’’
When asked whether it was difficult to protest, given China’s economic and military might, Del Rosario said: "When you get into a position of tension it’s good to be clear. That should be your starting point: to state clearly what your position is and to say that if you want to disagree with me that’s fine but let’s keep the lines of communication open."
The Philippines this month formally protested "the increasing presence and activities of Chinese vessels including naval assets" in the area.
The Chinese embassy and Liu himself, in a rare press conference, said the allegations were untrue in part because only research vessels were involved, and because China owned the area, with claims dating to the Tang dynasty, which ruled from the 7th to 10th centuries.
The area, known as the South China Sea, but which the Philippine government is calling the West Philippine Sea, is prized for potential oil and gas deposits. It’s also crisscrossed by cargo vessels and potentially by warships, in the case of war in Asia or the Middle East.
(See DFA statement on presence of Chinese vessels:)
"He’s [Liu] a very good ambassador," Del Rosario said. "He’s very sophisticated, very elegant in terms of how he does his job."
When asked what the Philippines could do if China continued or increased activities in the area, Del Rosario said: "You know, I don’t like to answer hypothetical questions. That simply is my policy. I hope we can resolve this issue someday in satisfactory manner without talking about military strength."
(See Secretary del Rosario’s statement on how to approach to dispute:)
Del Rosario said he didn’t know if anyone on either side is trying to organize talks to try to decrease the tension.
"If there is, it has not reached me," he said.