From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 20): Palace to 'try bilateral talks first' in resolving sea dispute
Malacañang said Tuesday it prefers bilateral talks with China in resolving the dispute over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), but it is now open to multilateral discussions in case the former fails.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo made this remark as he defended the Duterte Administration from critics who claim that the government is not doing its part to assert the United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that favors the Philippines and invalidates China’s claims on the disputed sea.
“The administration will use all modes in solving the problem (on the sea dispute). Right now, it feels that bilateral talks with China will work,” Panelo said in a Palace briefing.
“If that fails, then multilateral discussions would come in. As far as we’re concerned, let’s try bilateral talks first. Let’s see how far it will go,” he added.
It may be recalled that President Rodrigo Duterte earlier promised Chinese President Xi Jinping that the Philippines would handle maritime issues based on “bilateral consensus.”
Panelo, however, said that “collective action” coming from UN member-countries may help pressure China into respecting the arbitral ruling.
“Perhaps if all the countries of the world will unite and pressure China, who knows? There must be a collective action by the countries of the world and either persuade or pressure China into respecting an arbitral decision,” he said.
He noted that any country in a similar situation as the Philippines would do the same but maintained that there are different modes of asserting the Philippines’ claim on the contested waters.
“I think every country, in a similar situation, will do that. There is no doubt about that. There are modes of doing it. One is negotiation, two is during summit meetings among countries. We can raise that there, and in fact, we did it during the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Summit,” Panelo said.
The Palace official, meanwhile, denied that the Philippines would even consider giving up its claims if China insists on not respecting the arbitral ruling.
“We cannot give up this claim simply because it’s already ours. We have won it and it will be there forever,” Panelo said.
“The ruling is there. You cannot disown it. Nobody can take it away from you. What the President is doing right now is, since it cannot be enforced, (he) is using another tactic to get things that we want to get from them through negotiation,” he added.
Duterte earlier shelved the arbitral ruling after China rejected the verdict, to allow a peaceful and friendly settlement of the dispute.
Panelo said Duterte’s decision to take a friendly stance on the sea dispute is to avoid unnecessary “conflict” from arising.
“The structures that have been constructed started many years ago, as pointed out by the President. Now, the United States is doing something to prevent its continuous buildup, but they have not done anything at the start of the buildup -- they allowed it. Now they’re complaining. Now they’re trying to provoke China and China is being threatened,” he said.
“That is precisely why the President is so concerned that any armed conflict might turn this part of the world as a raging inferno, either by collateral damage or by strategic assault on us because of the proximity. The concern of the President is the safety of this nation,” he added.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is currently in the country for a state visit on November 20-21.
During his visit, cooperation agreements between the Philippines and China are expected to be signed. A bilateral meeting will also be held.