Duterte's China visit: Not the time to discuss sea dispute, says Yasay
MANILA, Philippines – It is not the time to discuss "substantively" the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute with China, reiterated the Philippines' top diplomat, Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr on Monday, October 17.
On the eve of the state visit of President Rodrigo Duterte to China, Yasay said the Philippines should focus on trade and economic relations with the Asian giant, as well as possible assistance and loans.
"We are never, certainly, afraid to negotiate with China... [but] right now is not the time to discuss substantively the resolution of this issue. We still have to build on the lost trust and confidence that was eroded during the he past administration," Yasay said in a press briefing Monday afternoon in Brunei.
Before leaving the Philippines for his back-to-back trips to Brunei and China, Duterte vowed he will not give up fighting for Philippine sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
But Yasay said the meetings between Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping will only tackle "general principles and framework under which they can proceed with bilateral talks in the future." The resolution of the conflict will not be discussed "substantively."
"We should not also miss out on the opportunities for trade and economic relationship that we would need as much as China would need it. We should not also miss out on various opportunities with respect to, let's say, assistance and loans that may be provided. But we should be able to do pursue these things for the mutual benefit of two countries wihhout eroding our respective claims over the South China Sea," Yasay added.
Concerns have been raised that Duterte's pivot to China means the country will put on the backburner its claims over the West Philippine Sea despite a historic international ruling that junked China's historic claims over the disputed seas.
Duterte has repeatedly made pronouncements about recalibrating the country's ties with its longest treaty ally, the US. While he maintained he will respect existing treaties with the US, he seeks to terminate war games between the Philippine and US military and joint patrols in the West Philippine Sea.
"President Duterte is taking a huge risk, betting all on China’s goodwill and beneficence without the insurance provided by the diversified, multi-lateral support of historical and traditional friends and allies," said maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal.
Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said Duterte cannot stop patrols in the West Philippine Sea, saying he may be impeached if he concedes Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal to China). – Rappler.com