China to Philippines: Let's sit down and talk

By Rainier Allan Ronda, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jul 07 2015 08:35 AM | Updated as of Jul 07 2015 04:39 PM

MANILA - China is ''still open and will be open forever'' to bilateral negotiations to settle its territorial spat with the Philippines, Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua said yesterday.

Zhao’s pronouncements came a day before a United Nations tribunal proceeds to determine whether it has jurisdiction over a case filed by Manila contesting Beijing’s massive claim in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea.

A high level Philippine delegation is now in The Hague to present the country’s position.

“I think the best is to sit down bilaterally to talk. We need to resume our bilateral negotiation without any condition. I think this is the best way that we can discuss how to peacefully settle these disputes,” Zhao told journalists at his official residence after the Chinese government donated books to the National Library of the Philippines, reported.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration, a five-man panel of judges, will start hearing oral arguments on the issue of jurisdiction until July 13.

“Our door for bilateral consultation and negotiation is still open and will be open forever,” Zhao said.

The Philippine team is represented by Solicitor General Florin Hilbay and will be assisted by Paul Reichler of the Washington-based law firm Foley and Hoag.

Also attending the proceedings – aside from Hilbay – are Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., Senate President Franklin Drilon, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, Supreme Court Justices Antonio Carpio and Francis Jardeleza, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and retired Armed Forces chief of staff and now undersecretary for security cluster Gen. Emmanuel Bautista.

Zhao brushed off criticisms that China is militarizing the waters with its ongoing construction of what appeared to be military installations on reclaimed islands.

“What I would like to emphasize is that we do not wish to define these disputes as military issues because they are political and diplomatic issues and they require political and diplomatic solution,” he said. “China has never regarded the dispute as a military dispute.”

The ambassador also maintained that China would never wage a war against the Philippines, saying “it is not China’s policy and will not be China’s policy” to resort to aggression to achieve its goal.

“Peaceful means, bilateral talks,” he pointed out.

Meanwhile, Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said the Philippines is ready for the start of proceedings at The Hague.

“We can’t talk much about it, but we are prepared for it,” Jose told reporters yesterday.

In a position paper submitted last December, China questioned the jurisdiction of the international arbitral court over the case. The Permanent Court of Arbitration and not the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea is handling the case. With Beijing’s refusal to take part in the proceedings, automatic arbitration has to be resorted to as required by rules.

The DFA said the Philippines would stick closely to facts in presenting its case against China.

“We try to make it as factual as possible on the way we see things, the objective of that is to raise awareness of our people on this very important issue,” Jose said.

“If we get a favorable ruling from tribunal, to us it is a fundamental first step towards a peaceful and rules-based approach towards resolving the overlapping maritime claims in the South China Sea,” he added.

Jose admitted that the DFA is not yet aware of the procedures of the hearing, although it does not expect China to make a presentation.

“Based on the position paper China submitted last December, it is questioning the jurisdiction of the arbitration tribunal over the case. Based on those points, China does not want to participate,” Jose explained.

China has repeatedly criticized the Philippines for initiating international arbitration instead of holding bilateral talks to resolve the territorial dispute.

On Thursday last week, China called the case filed by the Philippines a “political provocation,” a claim denied by Malacañang.

The DFA noted it was the Philippines that first initiated bilateral talks with China to resolve the issue, to no avail.

“We already tried to pursue bilateral talks way back in 1995 concerning the Mischief Reef. We tried to sit down with them. We exhausted all reasonable efforts to solve the issue,” Jose stressed.

He also lamented that China was always setting impossible conditions for bilateral talks, and “they always say we have to recognize their indisputable sovereignty” over the disputed areas.

The DFA noted that the territorial dispute has to be settled by the six claimant countries, including China. A ruling on the Philippine case by the arbitral tribunal is seen to provide claimant countries a clearer direction in resolving the dispute.

Asked if China can be made to follow the tribunal’s ruling, Jose emphasized there is no international law enforcement agency that can compel China to abide by the order.

“There is no international police to enforce. We would be relying on the international community,” Jose said.

“We don’t expect the tribunal to come out immediately with a decision. It may take a couple of months,” he added.

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