China, Philippines agree to dialogue over Sea disputes

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BEIJING: Beijing and Manila will resume talks on their South China Sea disputes, both sides said Friday, an apparent diplomatic victory for China after an international tribunal dismissed its claims to the waters.

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The announcement came during Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to China where he sought economic support from the Asian giant and announced his “separation” from longtime ally the US.

“A bilateral consultation mechanism can be useful, which will meet regularly on current and other issues of concern to either side on the South China Sea,” the countries said in a joint statement.

The move to hold talks, suspended several years ago, will please Beijing, which has a longstanding policy of insisting territorial disputes be discussed directly between the parties, in an environment where analysts say it has more clout due to its economic size, rather than in multilateral forums.

The joint statement made no reference to a ruling by a tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague earlier this year, which ruled that there was no legal basis to China’s claims to nearly all of the sea—a verdict Beijing dismissed vehemently.

Duterte initially told reporters he would raise the ruling in China, but later said that doing so would be rude to his hosts and that territorial disputes would take a “backseat” as he heaped praise on Beijing.

“Both sides affirm that contentious issues are not the sum total of the Philippines-China bilateral relationship,” the joint statement added.

It confirmed that China would lift a ban on imports from Philippine banana and pineapple growers which it imposed in 2012 as maritime tensions mounted.

China seized control of Scarborough Shoal, a fishing ground in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, the same year.

The two countries agreed to step up defense exchanges and co-operation between their coastguards, though no details were given. Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit the Philippines at an unspecified time, it added.

Beijing greeted Duterte with military honors and offered the Philippines $9 billion in soft loans for development projects. It has also pledged to support his controversial war on drugs which has seen thousands killed. AFP

AFP/CC

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