INCOMING Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. believes that tensions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) can only be eased if the Philippines holds bilateral talks with China.
In a chance interview shortly after his meeting with outgoing Foreign Affairs Secretary Jose Rene Almendras on Monday, Yasay said it is time for the Philippines and China to resume bilateral negotiations.
“We have always been pursuing this, and I don’t see why we should stop it,” he added.
“This is necessary. I don’t think there is any other way of resolving this except talking to each other,” Yasay said.
The last time the two countries held talks was during the visit of President Benigno Aquino 3rd in Beijing in 2014.
“It is my understanding that there were some reasons why bilateral talks with China had been suspended, but I don’t know the reasons,” Yasay said.
The former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission has been holding meetings with various officials, including the Solicitor General, to familiarize himself with a case filed by the Philippines against China at the Permanent Arbitration Court in The Hague, The Netherlands.
Yasay said incoming President Rodrigo Duterte did not give him marching orders.
He added that he will make recommendations to the President on how to resolve the maritime dispute with China after his meetings.
Yasay added that he will study Duterte’s proposal for the Philippines and China to share natural resources in the disputed waters.
“I have to consider what the law is saying. Can we have joint operation under our law? Maybe not?”
Yasay, just like Duterte, will take office on June 30.
He said he has not thought about making any changes in the department but he is open to strengthening some areas that need to be improved.
Also on Monday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) welcomed a declaration of the Group of Seven (G7) on the sea row.
In the declaration, leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan and the United States addressed major global economic and political challenges, including maritime security.
The leaders emphasized the “fundamental importance of peaceful management and settlement” of sea disputes in Asia.
“The Philippines welcomes the statement as it underlines the G7’s abiding commitment to support efforts to peacefully manage and settle the disputes in the South China Sea in accordance with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, through mechanisms recognized by international law, including legal procedures such as arbitration,” the DFA said in a statement.
It added that G7’s position is of “critical significance” as the international community awaits a ruling of the Permanent Arbitration Court on the case filed by Manila against Beijing.
“The G7’s consistent and firm position on this matter reflects the international community’s understanding and support for the Philippines’ principled and rules-based approach for addressing disputes in the South China Sea,” the department said.
While China had said that it will not recognize the tribunal’s ruling, the DFA reiterated that the Philippines “will fully respect the outcome of the tribunal process in good faith.”
China earlier said it was “strongly dissatisfied” with the G7’s “irresponsible remark.”
It accused the leaders of taking sides in the territorial row.
“As a host of the G7 Summit, Japan’s hyping up of the South China Sea issue and regional tension does no good to the stability of this area, and is incompatible with the role played by the G7 as an economic governance platform for developed countries,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
“It is hoped that G7 countries would take an unbiased and just position, honor their commitment of not taking sides on territorial disputes, stop making irresponsible remarks and do more things that contribute to regional peace and stability,” she added.