MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte assured US Secretary of State John Kerry that any talks the Philippines will pursue will begin with the historic Hague ruling that affirms the country’s claim over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
This was what Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella told reporters as he summarized what was discussed in the meeting between the two officials.
“There was no agreement [on the maritime dispute] except that whatever talks we will engage in will begin with the ruling. That will be the foundation, the ruling regarding the area,” said Abella.
Beijing has said that it will reject any bilateral talks with the Philippines that use as its starting point the historic ruling which nullified their claim over the West Philippine Sea and condemned their reclamation activities in the area.
But despite this, Abella said “it’s not a stalemate” and that the “conversation will continue to proceed.”
The US has hailed the Hague ruling and called on China to abide by it. The US’ primary interests in the dispute is to preserve freedom of navigation in the West Philippine Sea, part of a crucial trade route. The sea also reputedly holds vast oil reserves.
Kerry earlier said during a press conference with Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr, “We have made clear that the decision of the arbitral tribunal convened under the UN Law of the Sea Convention is legally binding, and that we expect the parties will comply with their obligations under law.”
The Secretary of State added that the US supports “mutually acceptable solutions” to the dispute, even negotiations between Manila and Beijing.
“We hope to see a diplomatic process between and among the claimants, without coercion or the use or threat of force,” said Kerry.
Former president Fidel V. Ramos will be Duterte’s special envoy to Beijing to begin bilateral talks. – Rappler.com