WE, the Philippines, should welcome having bilateral talks with China—or any country for that matter—to resolve any issue. But the talks should not have preconditions.
And we should make it clear that our position will not, in any manner or form, violate any agreement the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as a body has entered into or run against any decision Asean has made.
Also, any country we engage in bilateral talks or negotiations with must be made to understand at the outset that we cannot agree to any agreement or arrangement that runs against the Philippine Constitution, International Law and, in general, the rule of law.
We have urged our government in this space to engage with China in bilateral talks but without agreeing to anything that will conflict with anything that Asean has decided on the subject of relations with China.
China had proposed bilateral talks with the Philippines to resolve disputes about rights to features of the South China/West Philippine Sea. China claims virtually all of the SCS, including the part that is the WPS. We were glad to learn of that proposal because we thought what should happen is for us and China to have continuing and unbroken dialogue until our two countries arrive at one partial agreement after another.
But we were saddened to hear that Foreign Affairs Secretary had to turn down the Chinese offer.
Precondition on talks: don’t discuss UN tribunal ruling
We praise Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr. for his decision. For it turns out that the People’s Republic’s offer was conditioned on the bilateral talks excluding the subject of the recent United Nation’s Permanent Court of Arbitration’s decision upholding our rights over and ownership of waters and the reefs and islets in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea. The UN PCA also granted our petition to declare as null and void China’s map with a nine-dash line virtually encircling all of the South China Sea including waters close to our shores. The China side apparently did not want this discussed.
With that precondition, of course Yasay was duty bound to reject China’s bilateral talks offer.
In fact, Yasay’s task for the bilateral dialogue was precisely to discuss ways for the Philippines and China to proceed with mutually beneficial arrangements and cooperative activities in view of the UN PCA ruling that granted our petitions against China’s takeover of our waters and reefs. China has reclaimed some of these where it made artificial islands, and on some of which it has built structures and airplane runways.
China had immediately rejected the verdict of the UN tribunal in The Hague and attacked it as an illegal, null-and-void farce. It has issued more angry statements reiterating its claim to have historical and sovereign rights over the South China Sea that the UN ruling dismissed as non-existent.
For our part, we, the Philippines, cannot and must not surrender our own sovereign rights—economic and political.
Malacañang Palace did the very well in issuing a statement yesterday that said, among other good things:
“The Philippines continues along a diplomatic path to fully realize the EEZ rights granted by the Arbitration Court—engaging in bilateral talks to find mutually acceptable arrangements to RP, PROC; and consulting with our regional allies. We consider our sovereign economic rights, granted by the Law of Nations to be non-negotiable.”