A JAPANESE official on Friday urged the incoming Duterte administration to hold multilateral negotiations with countries claiming parts of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) amid a seeming warming of ties between Manila and Beijing.
“I personally think that a multilateral dialogue will be very important and very beneficial for all the countries which are engaged [in]that issue,” Katsuyuki Kawai, special advisor to the Japanese Prime Minister, noted in a news briefing.
Kawai said he had a meeting with President-elect Rodrigo Duterte in Davao City on Thursday where he informed Duterte that Japan is backing the Philippines in pursuing an arbitration case against China.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, The Netherlands, is expected to come out with its ruling on a memorial filed by the Philippines against Beijing soon.
“Japan has been constantly supporting the Philippines’ use of arbitral tribunal which respects the rule of law and pursues the peaceful resolution through the arbitration,” Kawai said.
The official added that he informed Duterte about the recent G7 Summit in Ise-Shima, Japan, where advanced economies released a declaration reaffirming the importance of resolving the sea dispute by peaceful means, including arbitration.
Kawai said he and Duterte agreed that the ruling of the arbitral tribunal is important, that freedom of navigation must be maintained and the Philippines and Japan should promote security cooperation.
Incoming Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. earlier said holding bilateral talks with Beijing is the only way to resolve the maritime dispute.
The last time the Philippines and China held talks was in 2014 at the sidelines of an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum.
Yasay, however, said the Philippines will only have multilateral talks with other claimants–Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam –that may be affected by the tribunal’s decision.
He added that the new administration will not change the Philippines’ existing foreign policy in a sense that the Constitution states that the country “should maintain an independent foreign policy and that it must be in pursuit [of]the paramount national interest.”
Yasay said the Philippines will only decide if it will take bilateral or multilateral approach after the tribunal has handed down its ruling.
“It is not nice to change policy. Do not expect to change any policy in so far as our action in the West Philippine Sea is concerned. Maybe we can have a different strategy, we can have a different emphasis on what to do. But the point is to have this matter resolved peacefully for the mutual benefit of all the parties concerned,” he added.
Message from EU
The European Union congratulated President-elect Rodrigo Duterte and vowed to continue supporting the Mindanao peace process.
“The Philippines and the EU share a close partnership grounded in a long history and in strong mutual interests. We are encouraged by the dynamic development of our relations and look forward to working with you on further strengthening our political, economic, trade and development cooperation,” the EU said in a statement.
“To this end, our Partnership and Cooperation agreement is expected to enter into force later this year,” it added.
The Philippines and EU had started the first round of negotiation on a Free Trade Agreement.
‘The EU is committed to continue its support to the Mindanao Peace Process. Looking ahead at the Philippines’ ASEAN chairmanship we count on your country’s continued support for the EU’s aspiration to join the East Asia Summit,” it added.