China asks the Philippines to quit UN arbitration, talk

BEIJING(PTI):China has asked the Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to withdraw the arbitration at a UN tribunal and return to bilateral dialogue to settle the territorial disputes over the strategic South China Sea.

In this April 29, 2016 file photo, presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte answers questions from the media in Manila, Philippines.

The Philippines should stop its arbitral proceedings and return to the right track of settling relevant disputes in the South China Sea (SCS) through bilateral negotiation with China, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Wednesday.

The Ministry also issued a statement saying the dispute over the SCS should be settled through negotiations.

The door is always open to bilateral negotiation, the statement said and asked Manila to stop turning its back on its agreement to settle disputes through negotiation and end the arbitral proceedings it had initiated against China.

The Chinese comments came as the Philippines has brought a case at an international tribunal constituted under the UN Convention on Law of Seas (UNCLOS) at The Hague contesting China’s claims over almost all of the South China Sea.

China boycotted the tribunal, likely to deliver verdict this month, saying it will not recognise the judgement.

Beijing expects the verdict to go against it.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister had told U.S. media on June 3 that China does not accept or participate in the arbitration, and the arbitral tribunal has lent a ready ear only to the Philippines. “I think the award will probably be in The Philippines’ favour.”

He has said that China doesn’t see the arbitration as “a move of good will” and that was intended to legalise the Philippines’ illegal claims and negate China’s rights in the South China Sea.

Wednesday’s statement inviting the Philippines for talks came as Mr. Duterte was set to take over the Presidency from Benigno Aquino, who opted for UN tribunal arbitration putting China in a spot.

China’s claims of all most all of SCS and asserts that it has held the area from ancient times. The claims are contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The dispute escalated as the US extended support to East Asian countries to assert their claims. More than USD 5.3 trillion of trade passes through the SCS annually.

Chinese analysts have called Mr. Duterte to quit the arbitration and return to the table for talks with Beijing.

Jia Duqiang, a researcher in Southeast Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the incoming Duterte administration seems willing to “reevaluate the country’s policies towards China,” state—run Xinhua reported.

Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said it remained to be seen if the new Philippine government would respond to Beijing’s overtures.

The arbitration process is coming to a critical moment with the arbitral tribunal expected to announce its ruling in a few weeks.