Philippines seeks to cool China tensions before sea talks

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 15 2016 11:49 AM

KUALA LUMPUR - Manila is looking to formally engage Beijing in bilateral talks over their maritime dispute but remains firm that these should be based on the Philippines' legal victory before an international tribunal, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said.

Yasay said Philippines would "wait until China is prepared to talk to us," noting both countries' contrasting positions on the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that rejected Beijing's sweeping claims over the South China Sea.

"Right now, let's give everybody some space. Let's give everybody the time to reflect," he told ABS-CBN News during his visit to the Philippine Embassy here Saturday evening.

"We are not pressured into talking with China. We will wait until China is prepared to talk to us."

But Yasay said Beijing should "make sure" not to take "any provocative action that will prevent" Filipino fishermen from going to Scarborough Shoal.

READ: Chinese vessel blocks Pinoy fishermen in Scarborough Shoal

The Hague-based arbitration court had ruled that both Filipino and Chinese fishermen had "traditional fishing rights" in the area.

Former President Fidel V. Ramos earlier met with Chinese officials in Hong Kong in his capacity as President Rodrigo Duterte's special envoy.

Malacañang said both sides tackled areas of cooperation such as marine preservation.

Yasay said Ramos' visit was "a good step forward...to open up the possibility of bilateral engagements with China."

"The important thing is we talk," he said. "Right now there seems to be a hardline position. But you know once you just talk and talk and talk, you will relieve tensions and you will open the door for peaceful engagements in the resolution of this dispute."

Yasay noted that Beijing had rejected using the tribunal's ruling as the basis of any bilateral talks while the Philippine position was also "firm to the effect that we will not engage China in any negotiations outside of the framework of the arbitral tribunal."

"So this is something that we are preparing for," he said. "This is something we want to make sure that eventually, the avenue for bilateral engagement will be open especially when the dust settles."