MALACAÑANG on Sunday bluntly rejected an offer by China to “share” the facilities it is building in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) as it welcomed reports that the G7 summit is poised to issue a statement expressing concern about unilateral efforts to assert sovereignty claims in the disputed sea.
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said any bilateral talks between the two countries would not be easy in light of the Philippines’ staunch position in favor of a more binding Code of Conduct among various claimants.
In an interview over state-run Radyo ng Bayan, Coloma noted that while they welcome the statement of Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua that Beijing is against any military solution to the dispute and is open to the possibility of holding bilateral talks to defuse tensions, the other claimants from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) should not be left out.
“Regarding the [resumption of]bilateral talks and ‘willing to share the facilities it is building in the [West Philippine Sea],’ the statement of the President (Benigno Aquino 3rd) is different, that we must respect the Declaration of the Code of Conduct between China and the Asean itself,” the official said in Filipino.
Coloma was reacting to Zhao’s statement on Friday that Beijing’s door remains open for bilateral talks with Manila even if the Philippine government decided to resolve the case through international arbitration.
He was not the first Philippine official who expressed cynicism on the “sharing” offer.
In a text message to The Manila Times, Assistant Secretary Charles Jose, spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs, said, “That offer was made only to deflect international criticism of China’s reclamation work.”
“China’s words and actions do not match. They drive away our fishermen from Scarborough Shoal even when they try to go there to seek shelter during inclement weather,” Jose added.
In a meeting with a group of Filipino journalists, Zhao said Beijing wants the Philippines “to return to the negotiating table.” He added that China has no preconditions to the resumption of talks, not even dropping of the arbitration case Manila has lodged with the UN tribunal in The Hague that China does not recognize anyway.
But Coloma argued that the sea dispute is not only between Manila and Beijing and that the Chinese government itself had signed the Declaration of Conduct that it must obey and respect.
“It was done in 2002 and based on that, [the signatories]must flesh out a legally binding Code of Conduct because the issues do not involve only two countries. There are many others, usually more than two in each disputed territory, features or maritime entitlements in the [West Philippine Sea],” he explained.
“It is not that simple,” Coloma pointed out.
He, however, expressed elation over Zhao’s remarks that they would not seek any military solution to the territorial dispute, and for citing the 40-year diplomatic relations between Beijing and Manila as remaining “peaceful, friendly and cooperative.”
“Of course we are happy with those statements and we agree to the proposition that there should be no military solution [to the problem]. We also agree that the relations between China and the Philippines remain peaceful, friendly and cooperative,” the Palace official said.
He noted that the President had made his position clear with Chinese Premier Hu Jintao when he visited China in 2011.
“He [Aquino] declared that the issue on the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea is not the end-all and be-all of Philippines-China relations,” according to Coloma.
On the possibility of holding bilateral talks, the official said the positions of the two countries may not meet because the Philippines adheres to “Asean centrality,” which involves many nations.
Also on Sunday, the Philippines welcomed reports that a G7 summit will express concern about the maritime dispute in the South China Sea.
Regional alarm is growing at moves by China aggressively staking its claim to most of the sea, including a large-scale island-building program.
The United States has urged China and other countries to halt reclamations there.
Coloma said Manila had been seeking more global attention on the issue after Aquino raised it in his numerous overseas visits.
John Kirton, director of think-tank the G7 Research Group, has said the maritime row between China and its neighbors will be on the agenda of the summit starting Sunday in Germany.
Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper on Saturday said the summit would take up the issue.
Citing sources, the paper disclosed that a closing statement would express concern about unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.
It said no country would be named.
The Group of Seven links the leaders of Germany, Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Japan and the United States.
When asked about the reports, Coloma said “having talks on achieving a peaceful and orderly settlement of the issue in the… South China Sea corresponds with the position taken by our country”.
“The position of these many countries is that they understand the value of the freedom of aviation and the freedom of navigation and the orderly process of trade and global commerce,” he told reporters.
Aquino last week likened present-day China to Nazi Germany in a speech in Japan, hinting the world cannot continue to appease Beijing over its South China Sea claims.
The waters are also partially claimed by the Philippines as well as Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.