MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines and China remain deadlocked over the Scarborough Shoal but are working to “restart frayed ties.”
Incoming Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II reported this following his mission as special envoy to the 9th China-ASEAN Expo (CAEXPO) held last week in Nanning, China.
In a Palace press briefing, Roxas disclosed what he reported to President Benigno Aquino III about his trip. Roxas met with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Fu Ying last Friday, September 21. Mr Xi is China’s president-in-waiting.
Roxas, who returned from the trip on Monday, September 24, said that while both sides reiterated their claim over the Shoal, his two meetings were able to “reestablish what has been a frayed relationship.”
“It has been assessed by both sides that the face-to-face meeting and the messages to the leaders would restore some of the good will that may have been frayed over the last several months,” Roxas said.
“But make no mistake: both sides have a fundamental difference in view regarding the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.”
Despite the standoff, Roxas stressed the importance of improving communication between China and the Philippines. He said he and Xi agreed to relay their discussions to their respective presidents.
“Talk, talk is better than no talk. The fact that we are talking at the highest levels, the fact messages are reliably conveyed is a good step, a good foundational step so that the [Department of Foreign Affairs] and other negotiators can build upon whatever foundations or whatever fundamentals have been established.”
Roxas said that he conveyed Aquino’s message that the Philippines is reiterating its claim to the Shoal on historical, “commonsensical,” and legal grounds. He said the Chinese leaders also stated their claim.
“The meeting was conducted in a cordial atmosphere. Notwithstanding the current controversy over Panatag Shoal, both sides expressed their desire to find common ground, particularly in reviving the other facets of our bilateral relationship,” said Roxas.
The Secretary said that both sides wanted to restore cooperation in other areas like trade, tourism, and culture.
The Philippines and China have been in a standoff over Scarborough Shoal since April and tensions were heightened in past months.
‘Aquino can use all channels’
Roxas said it will be up to the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to work out the details to improve the relations between the two countries.
The Secretary revealed that the Philippines already invited Fu for a visit to be able to continue the talks.
Roxas also said he is unaware of the status of Sen Antonio Trillanes IV as a backdoor negotiator with China. Last week, Aquino said Trillanes is still acting as backdoor negotiator.
Trillanes was the subject of a controversy after the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported about his backchannel talks with the Chinese. The senator later got into a spat with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who accused him of negotiating to favor Chinese interest. Aquino, however, has credited Trillanes for “minor success” in deescalating tension with China.
While Roxas refused to discuss Trillanes, he said it was Aquino’s prerogative to tap the senator.
“I think the President is entitled to use such channels as he deems necessary: front, back, side, window, in order to further Philippine national interest,” Roxas said.
Asked how Trillanes’ backdoor negotiations may affect the talks between the two ministries of foreign affairs, Roxas said, “I cannot respond to you. I do not know.”
“We both have ministries of foreign affairs. They are the principal executors of the foreign affairs policy of the President,” Roxas added.
After his mission, Roxas said he does not expect to go into talks with the Chinese again.
“I expect it was an assignment that the President instructed me to do. I’ve done it. I expect it’s one-time. I am incoming as an Interior Secretary,” Roxas laughed.
Still, the Secretary did not rule out similar assignments in the future.
“We all serve at the pleasure of the President in all of our job descriptions and other matters as may be assigned by the President.” – Rappler.com