Aquino favours code of conduct over UN arbitration in South China Sea row with China

Philippines President Benigno Aquino said that seeking United Nations arbitration to settle Manila's territorial row with Beijing would not be necessary if a "code of conduct" governing the contentious South China Sea could be concluded. -- ST PHOTO:
Philippines President Benigno Aquino said that seeking United Nations arbitration to settle Manila's territorial row with Beijing would not be necessary if a "code of conduct" governing the contentious South China Sea could be concluded. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Seeking United Nations arbitration to settle the Philippines' territorial rows with China would not be necessary if a "code of conduct" governing the contentious South China Sea could be concluded, Philippine President Benigno Aquino said Wednesday.

"If there's a formal code of conduct, then probably there's no need for arbitration," Mr Aquino said in an exclusive interview with The Straits Times.

He said: "The outcome is what is being sought to be achieved. If the route can afford that outcome, that outcome is achieved, then it negates the need for the route that was not productive."

The Philippines and China have seen a slight thaw in their icy relations following an informal meeting between Mr Aquino and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Apec summit last week.

"The warmth was there… There was sincerity," Mr Aquino told journalists in Beijing following the meeting.

On Wednesday, Mr Aquino told ST: "There was a reiteration of trying to find a resolution to the disputes. That, we think, was a very helpful and healthy sign. It lessens a bit the pressure. We were hoping that there'll be a follow-up to this."

"It is incumbent upon us to really push the envelop, to develop a positive outcome," he said.

Mr Aquino said, however, that as things currently stand, the Philippines is still pursuing a case it has filed with the UN contesting China's nine-dash line, a tongue-shaped encirclement that lays claims to 90 per cent of the 3.5 million sq km South China Sea.

"As precondition to formulating something that might happen nebulously somewhere down the line, I think it (withdrawing the arbitration case) would be a dereliction of my duty to protect the sovereignty of our country and the rights of our people," he said.

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