PH-China talks to test Rody’s diplomatic mettle
CANBERRA—While the Philippines eyes bilateral talks with China, Beijing slammed the door on Manila, saying it cannot negotiate with the Philippines if the Duterte administration does not scrap the historic ruling of the arbitral tribunal in The Hague on the South China Sea dispute.
“China will not allow any negotiation based on the ruling,” Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said in a press briefing on Wednesday.
Liu made the statement after a journalist asked him if the Philippines’ rejection of the ruling was a “precondition for the resumption of negotiations.” The query provoked a scornful reply from Liu.
The Philippines “welcomed” the decision that invalidated China’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea.
“China expects the new Filipino government to cooperate and recognize that the ruling is nothing more than a piece of waste paper and cannot be enforced. China hopes that the Filipino side will set aside the award and return to the negotiation table,” Liu said.
The rebuff came as President Duterte was reported to be eagerly pursuing bilateral talks with China.
The Inquirer reported that Mr. Duterte had met with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua at least three times and was considering offers of “goodwill” from China, such as building a railway from Metro Manila to Clark Field in Pampanga province in two years.
Bilateral negotiations with China after the ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration come as a test for the mettle of Mr. Duterte in diplomacy and foreign affairs for which he has scarcely any experience given that much of his experience in public service derives from his limited experience as Davao City mayor for 23 years.
Naïve, simplistic view
Cabinet officials are reported to hold the rather naïve and simplistic view that the arbitral tribunal’s ruling has given the Philippines a leverage in bilateral talks with China.
For example, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said on Thursday, “We have to talk with China. We cannot avoid it.”
Quoting Mr. Duterte, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said, “We will start the bilateral talks. And now we are starting from a better position because we are in the right place.”
Prior to the ruling, Rappler reported that the Department of Foreign Affairs had expected that a diplomatic victory in The Hague would allow the Philippines to “at least negotiate from a strong position.”
This official position flies in the face of reality, of Chinese Foreign Minister Liu’s statement that poured contempt on the Philippine view.
He said China viewed the tribunal’s ruling as merely “a pile of invalid papers which will never be observed … I kindly advise to throw the papers concerning the arbitration into the rubbish bin, put them aside on book shelves, or put them in the archives. The disputes will eventually have to return to the table of negotiations and China hopes the Philippines to return to the track of bilateral negotiations.” (On China’s own terms, we may add.)
Debate at Asem
Nevertheless, the issue of the ruling resurfaced in a vehement debate at another forum, the biennial Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) in Ulaanbataar, Mongolia.
China, which boycotted the hearings at the arbitral tribunal, protested against bringing the issue to Asem, claiming it was “not an appropriate venue” to discuss the South China Sea dispute.
In anticipation of an adverse ruling from the tribunal, China sought to reassert its claims in the South China Sea by building a network of artificial islands capable of supporting military operations, and last week reiterated its right to declare an air defense identification zone in the area, which would demand civilian flights to submit to the authority of the Chinese military.
The Philippines told Asem leaders in Ulaanbataar that it considered the ruling invalidating China’s claims in the South China Sea as a “milestone decision” as it called on them for support to help bring a peaceful solution to the dispute.
Speaking at the Asem summit, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said that while the tribunal’s decision favored the Philippines, it is now prepared to move forward with China to ease tensions.
While Asem heard calls from European Union leaders for China to abide by the decision, Beijing reacted angrily to the calls rebuking it for rejecting the decision.
Rules-based global order
Solicitor General Jose Calida pointed out that the ruling renewed faith in international law. He told a forum on the South China Sea at the University of the Philippines College of Law on Friday that the ruling “confirms that no one state can claim virtually an entire sea. The award is a historic win not only for the Philippines … it renews humanity’s faith in a rules-based global order.”
Calida said the President was pushing for the opening of bilateral negotiations with China on joint development in the disputed waters. “The baseline of any negotiations should be the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration,” he said.
The Philippines has gained enough from the arbitration award and “we will not concede any of the awards given to us,” he said.
He emphasized that any negotiations with China would have to “respect the first option.”
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