China’s activities in the South China Sea will be tackled during the bilateral negotiations between the Manila and Beijing that opens on Friday, Malacañang said.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said that both countries will discuss issues reached between President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping, particularly on the peaceful resolution of the maritime conflict.
China was reported to have installed rocket launchers on Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) reef, which is administered by China but also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.
“I think that will be covered by the bilateral consultative mechanism,” Abella told reporters.
“I specifically heard the President saying that he will bring this up and these are items that will be touched on, especially code of conduct, especially these things,” he added.
Robespierre Bolivar, spokesman of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), said the bilateral meeting in Beijing “is meant to establish rapports between the negotiators.”
Asked if China’s offer of multi-million in aid to the Philippines will affect the government’s moves in the South China Sea, Abella said, “These are two separate things aside from the economic relationships that we have.”
In his recent visit to China last week, President Rodrigo Duterte batted for the peaceful resolution of the sea dispute as he again refused to bring up the decision of an international arbitral tribunal upholding the Philippines’ sovereign rights in disputed waters.
Duterte has time and again said that the country can not pick a fight with China.
“We avoid violence and we avoid war because frankly, we cannot afford it and China cannot afford it also. It will only sow rift between the two of us,” the President told reporters in Davao City upon his return from his official visit to China.
“There is a time for me to ask about the arbitral ruling but it is not now. We have to go into the mechanics. We have to have an agenda, the structure of the meeting and the way how to present the case to them first because we agreed to talk, to have a dialogue,” he added.
Even if the Philippine government played down the tribunal’s ruling, Manila has asserted its rights in the disputed area an official of the DFA said.
“Philippine officials have avoided mentioning the 2016 tribunal ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, but every time we are into negotiations, we assert our rights like when we say that our fishermen have the right to fish in Panatag Shoal. You are encroaching into our waters. That’s basically saying that that’s the arbitral ruling.
Especially when we tell China that ‘you can’t do that,” the official who requested not to be identified said.
“It is part of the integrated continuation—a position without mentioning the arbitral ruling,” he said.
“Actually, the arbitral ruling has only reaffirmed our rights over 13 of the 15 points raised. We cling to those rights by not mentioning the verdict,” he added.
With JAIME R. PILAPIL