Bilateral talks better than taking hardline stance, says Escudero
MANILA should seriously study Beijing’s offer to bilaterally settle the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute instead of rejecting it outright, an administration senator said on Monday.
Accepting the offer for the Philippines and China to sit across the negotiating table, according to Sen. Francis Escudero, is a better alternative to taking a hardline stance.
“We should study any offer that would promote peace without giving up our regional, multilateral and legal moves in relation to the West Philippine Sea issue,” he said.
Escudero was reacting to a statement attributed to Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. that turned down a suggestion of Beijing’s envoy to the Philippines to restart talks with no pre-conditions.
Chinese Ambassador to Manila Zhao Jianhua on Friday told a select group of journalists that Beijing was also amenable to “share” with the Philippines facilities they constructed in areas they occupy in the West Philippine Sea.
Escudero’s statements were a reiteration of Vice President Jejomar Binay’s call early this year.
At the time, in April, surveillance pictures showing China’s massive construction work were first made public.
Binay said he would try a different tack in dealing with the China problem if he got elected President in 2016.
He added that he was looking forward to striking a win-win joint venture as a result of direct talks with Beijing.
“May pera po ang China, kailangan po natin ng kapital [China has the money and we need capital],” the Vice President said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario dismissed the Vice President’s position that the country should resume bilateral talks with China, saying Manila had exhausted all means to deal with Beijing in an attempt to resolve tensions in the West Philippine Sea.
“We are for bilateral talks, but we ran into a dead end in terms of using that approach,” del Rosario said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel.
“In the case of Scarborough Shoal, we had over 50 bilateral engagements with them and that did not work because … in every bilateral meeting you have with China, unfortunately, [they say]to you, ‘We have indisputable sovereignty over the entire South China Sea’,” he added.
China’s hardline stance prompted Manila to elevate the dispute to the UN International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (Itlos).
Vietnam, which also has overlapping claims with China in the South China Sea, also sought arbitration from the Itlos.
Beijing refuses to recognize the arbitral tribunal’s jurisdiction on the issue and has repeatedly insisted that claimants should approach the dispute bilaterally.
When asked if Coloma’s statement turning down China’s offer may further escalate the tensions, Escudero said he does not think so, adding that Malacañang may have valid reasons in taking such position.
One of which, Escudero said, is the ongoing G7 summit this week where China’s expansionism is reportedly in the agenda.
Manila on Sunday welcomed reports that the G7 summit would express concern about unilateral efforts to assert sovereignty claims in the West Philippine 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 also urged China and other nations to halt reclamations there.