BEIJING: Beijing and Manila will resume bilateral talks on their West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute, both sides said Friday, insisting that contentious issues were “not the sum total” of their relationship.
China announced $24 billion in investment and soft loan pledges to the Philippines as President Rodrigo Duterte concluded a state visit in Beijing, where he sought economic support from the Asian giant and announced his “separation” from longtime ally the US.
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 refuses to recognize.
But Manila did not totally abandon its arbitration victory as the joint statement said the bilateral talks would be “in addition to and without prejudice to other mechanisms.”
“[I]n addition to and without prejudice to other mechanisms, 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. Both sides also agree to explore other areas of cooperation,” the countries said in a joint statement.
The two countries’ maritime dispute will be resolved through “friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations and the 1982 Unclos,” it said.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) was the basis of the Philippines’ case against China at the PCA.
Under Unclos, the Philippines enjoys a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which overlaps with China’s “nine-dash line” claim to almost the entire South China Sea.
China seized control of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, a fishing ground in the Philippines’ EEZ, in 2012, which prompted Manila to run to the PCA.
The two countries also promised to stick to the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and try to reach a code of conduct in the waters as soon as possible.
‘Not the sum total’
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.
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.
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.