Manila advised against talks with China over disputed South China Sea waters

Crew members of China's South Sea Fleet take part in a drill in the Xisha Islands, or the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, on May 5, 2016.
Crew members of China's South Sea Fleet take part in a drill in the Xisha Islands, or the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, on May 5, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (REUTERS) - A former Philippine foreign minister and a United States security expert said on Tuesday (June 7) Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte should not hold unconditional bilateral talks with China to try to resolve their South China Sea dispute.

China claims most of the waters, through which US$5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims, as well as close military ties with the United States.

The Philippines has brought a case at an international tribunal in The Hague contesting China's claims, a case rejected by China which wants to try solve the issue bilaterally.

Duterte has said he will not go to war against China and may hold bilateral talks.

"We must await the decision from (the tribunal) before we start talking to China because otherwise, the judges are going to think twice about what it is that we're doing," former foreign minister Albert del Rosario, who filed the complaint in The Hague in 2013, told reporters.

Ernest Bower, head of the South-east Asia programme at the US Center for Strategic and International Studies, also cautioned the government against bilateral talks without condition.

"If the Philippines finds a way forward with China that includes China's commitment to forego the nine-dash line claim and commit to a legally binding code of conduct in the South China Sea, then go ahead," he told soldiers and diplomats at the main army base in Manila.

But, if there were no such conditions, he said: "I think the Philippines would lose the respect of its partners in Asean and certainly the US will be extremely disappointed."

Manila is contesting Beijing's claim to an area shown on its maps as a nine-dash line stretching deep into the maritime heart of South-east Asia, covering hundreds disputed islands and reefs. Asean is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

China told the United States on Tuesday that it should play a constructive role in safeguarding peace in the South China Sea, as US Secretary of State John Kerry called for talks and a peaceful resolution.