President Rodrigo Duterte met with his Vietnamese counterpart Tran Dai Quang on Thursday and discussed the dispute over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
In a press conference in Hanoi, Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay said Duterte explained why he believes it is necessary for the Philippines to hold bilateral talks with China to settle the territorial disputes.
“Bilateral engagements with China [are]necessary with this respect because the arbitral tribunal’s decision has no enforcement capability or mechanisms on its own,” Yasay said.
“The enforcement and implementation of the arbitral tribunal’s decision will have to be pursued and made by the claimants themselves to their own agreements,” he added.
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, who is also part of the Philippine delegation, said Duterte explained that bilateral talks with China are necessary “because he has to feel them out first.”
“Ang kanyang appeal, is kung problema natin, baka kaya natin i-solve na tayo-tayo [His appeal was that if it’s our problem, maybe we can solve it among ourselves]. We thank and we respect foreign powers, world powers, but isn’t it better if we open doors and start talking?” Cayetano said.
Vietnam pushed for multilateral and bilateral means to resolve the South China Sea dispute, according to Yasay.
“The Vietnamese and Philippine position on the handling of the dispute on the South China Sea are convergent.
There is no conflict,” he said, adding that both presidents agreed on their commitment to the rule of law and pursuing “legal and diplomatic processes” for the peaceful settlement of disputes.
Both leaders also agreed to avoid “provocative acts,” Yasay said.
“We agreed to fully implement the Declaration of Conduct that was already approved and signed by all Asean members in 2002 and to proceed on a fast-track basis with the coming out of a code of conduct,” he added.
Vietnam and the Philippines are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). Two other members, Brunei and Malaysia, also have claims on the South China Sea.
Yasay said Duterte gave assurances that he would bring up the ruling with China at “one point in time.”
“We also said that the decision of the arbitral tribunal is our contribution to the jurisprudence insofar as the maritime law and the interpretation of the provisions of the UNCLOS is concerned. Vietnam has not filed a case against China before the arbitral tribunal but if they so decide, they can certainly use the arbitral tribunal’s decision as a precedent in supporting their legal claims and strengthening their legal claims,” he added.
Yasay said Duterte and Quang also discussed maritime cooperation.
“We will pursue bilateral negotiations to see what kind of an agreement we can pursue in the mutual interest of both countries. Incidentally, when we say maritime cooperation, it also includes among other things making sure that the maritime environment and health is protected in the light of certain destructions that have been made,” he said.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez told reporters both presidents “agreed to really level up the trade that we have by increasing trade numbers.”
He said Duterte encouraged more Vietnamese businessmen to invest in the Philippines.
Lopez said the President also urged the Vietnamese government to consider importing Philippine products to improve the trade balance between the two countries.
Vietnam supplies 48 percent of the Philippines’ rice imports.