With an arbitration case over disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dividing Manila and Beijing, relations between the two countries cannot be improved, a top Chinese official recently told a Philippine delegation of media and think-tanks.
“If there’s the arbitration [case], there’s no chance to improve the relations. If you continue to sue me in court, how can I treat you to lunch?” Zhang Xuyi, deputy director-general of Asia Bureau One of the International Department of the Communist Party of China, said to the group that was visiting China.
Zhang, who hosted the Philippine delegation that toured the provinces/cities of Xiamen, Fujian, Hunan and Beijing, spoke through an interpreter.
The official was referring to the case filed by the Philippines before the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (Itlos) against China’s nine-dash line position on the contested areas in the West Philippine Sea.
A memorial, seeking to invalidate Beijing’s “encompassing” and “excessive” claims that reached some islands in Luzon and Palawan, was submitted by Manila in March 2014.
The five-member tribunal gave China until this month to file its counter-memorial. Beijing has rejected the arbitration case, pushing instead for bilateral negotiations.
Zhang said there were “rare cases” that a territorial conflict was solved by an international court.
He, however, highlighted the importance of continuing to find ways to improve the vastly depreciated links between the two countries.
“We hope government-to-government exchanges will be effective. If the peoples of two countries can understand each other’s position, then government policies may be adjusted,” Zhang said.
He added that he believes that the territorial row is not the “totality” of Beijing’s relationship with Manila.
In fact, the dispute is of “minor” importance and China has always been committed to following Chinese revolutionary and statesman Deng Xiaoping’s formula of “shelving the disputes” and letting later generations find a solution to territorial problems.
“Our descendants may be in a better position [to find a solution],” Zhang said, adding that it is more important to look at the “cooperation perspective.”
The Chinese official noted that although Beijing has similar territorial issues with Malaysia, it has not followed the Philippines’ method of seeking international arbitration.
Instead, Malaysia and China continue to improve their relations and industrial zones are in “full swing.”
“But did we [China and the Philippines] settle the disputes? Dispute is not the problem itself. The real problem is how you deal with the dispute,” Zhang told the delegation.
The problem in the West Philippine Sea is sensitive and challenging, he said, adding that it cannot be solved immediately and easily.
“The [territorial dispute]is not only between China and claimants, but with Asean [too]. It is a bilateral, trilateral and multilateral dispute,” Zhang said, referring to the 10-strong Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The official noted, though, that it being a multilateral dispute does not mean other countries can meddle and intervene.
“China and Philippines relations [are]kidnapped by Philippine-US relations,” Zhang said.
He also noted reports that when former US State Secretary Hillary Clinton visited a warship, she advised the Philippines on how to deal with China’s rise as a regional power.
Zhang did not say what warship he was referring to.
He maintained that China, unlike other countries, will never take the path of hegemony.
China, he added, is committed to keep good relations with all countries and to create a peaceful path of development because “there is no second choice for China.”