PH wants China to make first move on S. China Sea row

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 24 2016 10:41 AM | Updated as of Oct 24 2016 11:19 AM

YOUR MOVE, CHINA: After winning an arbitration case against China, the Philippine government is now looking to Beijing to make the first move in reviving talks to resolve the South China Sea dispute.

“We would hope that China will make the first move in so far as making that discussion of substantive matters on resolving matters on our dispute in the South China Sea first and as soon as possible,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay said in an interview on ABS-CBN’s “Umagang Kay Ganda.”

“Hopefully, within the next few weeks, we will see some actions on the part of China to express that goodwill that will signal also our moving towards an ability to resolve our dispute peacefully.”

Yasay said President Duterte, in his state visit to Beijing last week, has stressed before Chinese leaders that he will abide by the arbitration ruling that invalidated Beijing's claims to the waterway, even as he seeks stronger economic ties with the Asian giant.

“In fact, nandoon ako na nag-uusap si President Duterte sa mga liderato ng Tsina, 'dahil hindi natin pwedeng makahanap ng solusyon ngayon, itabi muna natin iyung dispute natin without prejudicing or undermining our respective claims. We stand firm on our claims,” he said.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands after a signing ceremony held in Beijing, China October 20, 2016. Ng Han Guan, Reuters

[In fact, I was there when President Duterte was talking to the leaders of China. He said that because we cannot find a solution for now, let us temporarily set asidethe dispute without prejudicing or undermining our respective claims. We stand firm on our claim.]

“Ang position ng Pilipinas d'yan [The position of the Philippines there] is when the time comes that we will be talking with China in resolving this dispute, it will be within the context of the arbitral tribunal,” he added.

Duterte also maintained the two countries must continue enhancing their trade relations because the festering territorial squabble is “not the sum” of PH-China ties, Yasay said.

“Sinasabi ng ating Pangulo na dahil marami naman tayong basehan to foster closer relationship [Our President is saying that we have many bases to foster closer relationship]. Our dispute with the South China Sea is not the sum total of our relationship. It is for this reason that he went to China - to open up more equal, fair and just economic and trade ties with the country,” the Secretary said.

Duterte has brought home an estimated $24 billion in investment and loan pledges from Beijing.

Two Chinese officials also told Reuters last week China will consider giving Filipino fishermen conditional access to disputed waters in the South China Sea following Duterte’s visit. On Sunday, the President expressed confidence Filipino fishermen would be able to return soon to the contested fishing ground at Scarborough shoal.

Yasay confirmed that China "might move out its Coast Guard vessels from that area," in the next weeks although Filipino fishermen may not be immediately allowed to return there since authorities must first ascertain the state of the fishing stock.

China seized Scarborough shoal -- claimed by Beijing as Huangyan island and by Manila as Panatag -- in 2012, denying Pinoy fishermen access to its rich fishing stock.

The seizure formed part of a case the Philippines took to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in the Hague, which in July ruled that China did not have historic rights to the South China Sea, including a 320-kilometer exclusive economic zone around the Spratly islands.

China has declared the ruling "null and void" but said it is time to get talks started again between the countries directly involved in the issue.

Protesters throw flowers while chanting anti-Chinese slogans during a rally by different activist groups over the South China Sea disputes. Reuters

CHINA PIVOT

Duterte's campaign to bolster ties with China comes after weeks of his combative language against the US, which was prompted by American President Barack Obama's criticism of the extrajudicial bloodbath in the Philippine war on drugs.

In his state visit to Beijing, Duterte also announced his "separation" from Washington.

Yasay, however, insisted Monday that the President was not severing ties with the Western power, and was only expressing his desire for greater economic and military dependence so that the Philippines could pursue its national interest even if it is in conflict with the agenda of the US.

“Ang ginagawa ng ating Pangulo is [What the President is doing is] to be independent economically and militarily from the United States because we want to pursue our own paramount national interest. And if this will in conflict and not convergent with America's interest, iyung atin ang dapat nangunguna [our should take precedence],” he said.

“Hindi ibig sabihin niyan na hindi na magiging kaibigan ang America sa atin [This does not mean that America will longer be a friend to us]. We still maintain close ties with the United States. Marami po tayong pinasasalamatan sa America, sa mga nagawa nila sa atin [We have a lot to thank America for, for what they have done for us]."

The country's top diplomat added that the Philippines is not "making an enemy out of US" as it enhances relations with China and other Asian neighbors.

"When we are saying that we want to forge stronger ties with China, with Asean and with the other Asian countries in our region, it doesn't mean that we are making an enemy out of the United States or weakening our friendship with them,” he said.

Yasay also emphasized the US remains as Manila's only treaty ally because Duterte is not hammering out security treaties with China or any other country.

Duterte has also clarified that he will not cut the Philippines' ties with the United States despite an earlier announcement of "separating" with the global superpower.