South China Sea case

Manila rejects Beijing's offer of bilateral talks

Philippines turns down China's call for talks 'outside of and in disregard' of tribunal ruling

The Philippines has turned down China's offer to hold bilateral talks "outside of and in disregard" of an arbitral tribunal's ruling last week that struck down Beijing's expansive claims in the South China Sea.

"This is something not consistent with our Constitution and national interest," Philippine Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay said in an interview with the news channel of TV network ABS-CBN yesterday.

Mr Yasay said he met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Meeting Summit in Mongolia last week.

"(The Chinese) said if you will insist on the ruling and discussing it along those lines, then we might be headed for a confrontation," Mr Yasay disclosed.

On July 12, a five-man arbitral tribunal at The Hague rejected Beijing's claims to economic rights across large swathes of the South China Sea in a ruling hailed as a victory by Manila.

Beijing claims more than two- thirds of the South China Sea with a nine-dash line, drawn since the 1940s on modern Chinese maps, that overlaps with what Manila considers as its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone, as well as those of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

In its 479-page ruling, the tribunal declared the Chinese line inconsistent with international law.

It also rebuked China for building artificial islands in the South China Sea and, in the process, causing "irreparable harm" to the marine environment, and harassing Philippine fishing boats and exploration ships.

China rejected the ruling and said it would not enter into any negotiation that brings it up.

Despite the seeming stand-off, Mr Yasay said Manila would continue to pursue efforts to open negotiations with Beijing. "I sense there is room to talk very quietly, using backdoor channelling," he said.

Mr Yasay said the Philippines wants to enforce the points of the complex ruling step-by-step but, as a priority, has asked China to let its fishermen go to Scarborough Shoal without being harassed.

In Beijing, a senior Chinese official yesterday brushed off calls for a boycott of the Philippines.

Some Chinese have reacted to the tribunal ruling by calling for boycotts on products from the Philippines and the US, which many in China blame for pushing the case.

Asked if Beijing would retaliate trade-wise against Manila over the ruling, China's Vice-Minister of Commerce Gao Yan said that trade ties with the Philippines were developing smoothly. "In recent years, the development of China's trade relations with the Philippines overall has been smooth and stable. China is willing to develop mutually beneficial and diverse trade relations with the Philippines," she said.

"I should say that though some Internet users have called for boycotts on products from the Philippines, in actuality, this situation has not occurred."

Total two-way trade between China and the Philippines rose 5.7 per cent in the first six months of the year to US$22.3 billion (S$30 billion), Chinese Customs data shows.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2016, with the headline 'Manila rejects Beijing's offer of bilateral talks'. Print Edition | Subscribe