Kerry backs Philippine response to ruling on maritime dispute vs China

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US Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday praised Manila’s handling of its territorial dispute with Beijing, as he and Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay downplayed the failure of Association of Southeast Nations (Asean) foreign ministers to address the issue.

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Kerry, who is in Manila after attending the meeting of Asean foreign ministers in Vientiane, Laos, cited the Duterte administration for the “very responsible and measured way” it responded to the international arbitration ruling, which invalidated China’s historical claims to the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone at the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

The US official said he was satisfied with the Asean statement, even if it skipped references to the July 12 ruling of the court based in The Hague, Netherlands.

China has refused to heed the ruling, which is considered legally binding.

“We’re not trying to create a confrontation. We are trying to create a solution,” he told reporters in a news conference with Yasay at the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The 10-member regional bloc only expressed serious concern over recent developments in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) that have “eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region.”

While the Asean foreign ministers did not include the arbitration ruling in their statement, it cannot be considered as a diplomatic win for China, Yasay said.

“That was not the object of our meeting,” he added, referring to the UN maritime treaty that was the basis of the arbitration ruling. “The arbitral award is a matter between the China and the Philippines … The purpose of that meeting was simply to address the South China Sea issue in terms of trying to resolve it consistent with the general principles of international law and the 1982 Unclos,”

Yasay said the joint communique was a victory of Asean.

Kerry later met with President Rodrigo Duterte to discuss the possibility of a dialogue with China to resolve tensions over the disputed seas.

Kerry, who landed in Manila at 8:45 p.m. on Tuesday, paid a courtesy call to Duterte in Malacañang.

Earlier, Duterte assured a visiting US delegation that “he has no plans to negotiate with China” over the disputed waters.

Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy posted on his Twitter page that Duterte told them that the Philippines would not trade its territorial rights with China and that the July 12 decision of the Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands was “non-negotiable.” MICHAEL JOE T. DELIZO and CATHERINE S. VALENTE

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