It's up to Manila to improve ties: Beijing

Philippine govt strained relations by taking S. China Sea row to arbitration court, says Chinese foreign minister

BEIJING • China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the Philippines' case against Beijing at an arbitration tribunal over rival claims in the South China Sea had strained relations between the two nations, and that it was up to Manila to improve ties.

The arbitration case against China in The Hague "is a knot that has impeded the improvement and development of Sino-Philippine relations", a statement on the Foreign Ministry's website cited Mr Wang as saying in Manila.

"We do not want this knot to become tighter and tighter, so that it even becomes a dead knot," said Mr Wang, who was in the Philippines for talks on Tuesday. "As for how to loosen or open the knot, (we'll) have to look at the Philippines."

Mr Wang's visit came a week before Chinese President Xi Jinping is slated to arrive in Manila for the Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit, hosted by Philippine President Benigno Aquino.

But for now, the two countries are still embroiled in a maritime dispute. Beijing's claim to almost the entire South China Sea is shown on Chinese maps with a nine-dash line that stretches deep into the maritime heart of South-east Asia. Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also claim parts of the waterway.

For years, China has insisted that disputes with rival claimants be handled bilaterally.

In a legal setback for China, the arbitration court in the Netherlands ruled late last month that it had jurisdiction to hear some territorial claims Manila had filed against Beijing over disputed areas in the South China Sea.

The Philippine government has welcomed the decision and its foreign affairs department yesterday said it would pursue the case "to its logical conclusion".

"China's nine-dash line claim is expansive, excessive and has no basis under international law," said foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose.

"If left unchallenged, we could lose about 80 per cent of our EEZ (exclusive economic zone)."

China has boycotted the international legal proceedings and rejects the arbitration court's authority in the case.

Mr Jose said on Tuesday, after a meeting in Manila between Mr Wang and his Philippine counterpart Albert del Rosario, that the two countries had agreed to resume foreign ministry consultations after a two-year break to explore areas where bilateral relations can move forward despite the territorial row.

Manila filed the case in 2013 to seek a ruling on its right to exploit the South China Sea waters in its 200-nautical mile EEZ as allowed under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

"The person who caused the problem should solve it," Mr Wang said. "We hope that the Philippines can make a more sensible choice."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2015, with the headline 'It's up to Manila to improve ties: Beijing'. Print Edition | Subscribe