Philippines warns imminent talks over China sea row unlikely

The Philippines said direct talks with China over their maritime dispute were unlikely to start anytime soon.

AFP| Updated: Jul 19, 2016, 11:42 AM IST

Manila: The Philippines said Tuesday direct talks with China over their maritime dispute were unlikely to start anytime soon due to Beijing`s refusal to accept an international tribunal ruling on the South China Sea.

The UN-backed tribunal said last week there was no legal basis for China`s claims to most of the strategic, resource-rich waters. Beijing has staunchly rejected the verdict.

"At this point in time, I am not sure whether negotiations can be pursued," Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said Tuesday.

Yasay and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi discussed the possibility of bilateral talks on the sidelines of an Asia-Europe summit in Mongolia last weekend but made no headway.

"Let the dust settle some more and let`s see how we can open up the road for this kind of negotiation," the Filipino official said in an interview with the ABS-CBN network.

The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled Beijing had violated the Philippines` sovereign rights to exploit resources in waters up to 340 kilometres (230 miles) beyond its coast, called its exclusive economic zone.

The fish-rich Scarborough Shoal, which lies about 230 kilometres from the Philippine coast, is a "traditional fishing ground" that should be open to Filipino, Chinese and other fishermen, the tribunal said.

China seized the shoal in 2012 after a brief stand-off with the Philippine navy. Manila lodged suit at the tribunal the following year.

China is prepared to discuss Filipino access to the Scarborough Shoal but warned "if you will insist on the ruling... then we might be headed for a confrontation," Yasay said.

President Rodrigo Duterte`s "first and foremost" priority is to regain access to the Scarborough Shoal for Filipino fishermen, Yasay said.

"Let`s do it one step at a time. Let`s manage it on that basis," Yasay said.

"We have asked China to exercise restraint and sobriety in this regard, that we maintain the status quo for now in terms of not taking aggressive actions... not coming out with any provocative statements," he added.

Duterte said last week that he would send former president Fidel Ramos to China to start talks on the ruling.

Beijing, which justifies its extensive claims by saying it was the first to have discovered, named and exploited the sea, has said that the tribunal ruling cannot be the basis of any discussions.

In the long term, Yasay said Manila had not ruled out the possibility of giving China a role as a contractor when the government moves to exploit the resources, including natural gas, in its exclusive economic zone.