MANILA - U.S. Secretary John Kerry said Wednesday he sees a "real opportunity" for jump-starting diplomacy to resolve disputes in the South China Sea in the wake of a recent ruling by an international tribunal that invalidated China's vast claims in the sea, which overlap those of five other claimants.
Kerry, speaking in Manila after talks with his Philippine counterpart Perfecto Yasay, urged all claimants "to negotiate, to work this through diplomatically, bilaterally, multilaterally, build up confidence-building measures."
"We hope to see a diplomatic process between and among the claimants, without coercion or the use or threat of force. And we look forward to working with all of the parties," he said.
China has rejected the July 12 ruling by the U.N.-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which found that it has no legal basis to claim historic rights to resources in most of the South China Sea and that some of those areas it claims lie within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.
Kerry, who arrived in Manila on Tuesday for a two-day visit, reiterated that the United States considers the ruling "legally binding" and added, evidently referring to China, "we expect that the parties should comply with their obligations under law."
He said that while Washington takes no position on the competing sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, "we do take a strong position on protecting the rights, the freedoms and the lawful uses of air and sea space as defined by international law."
"But we're not trying to create a confrontation. We're trying to create a solution," he said. "What we want to do is urge people to not try to build up the tensions, don't take provocative actions, leave a space here for people to be able to find a way forward."
"We hope and see a real opportunity for claimants to work together to constructively, peacefully manage and ultimately resolve their differences consistent with international law."
Yasay thanked the United States for its support, saying, "The United States is our only treaty ally, and we will continue our consultations and engagements with them on a way forward with our national interests paramount and with full consideration for the award from the arbitral tribunal."
At the same time, he called the ruling "a matter of concern between China and the Philippines" and said Manila hopes to engage with Beijing "in moving forward to the peaceful implementation of the arbitral award."
Later Wednesday, Kerry met with President Rodrigo Duterte, who told him that the ruling will serve as the "foundation" for Manila's future talks with Beijing on their maritime disputes.
"There were no agreements regarding that except that the president did mention that whatever talks we will engage in, we'll begin with the ruling. That will be the foundation," presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella told reporters.
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