China / Government

Manila urged to quit arbitration, return to talk

By ZHANG YUNBI ( Updated: 2016-06-08 14:26

China has urged the Philippines to "immediately cease its wrongful conduct of pushing forward the arbitral proceedings" and "return to the right path" of settling the relevant disputes in the South China Sea, through bilateral negotiation.

In an official statement released on Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry reaffirmed Beijing's commitment to a settlement via two-way negotiations, rather than an arbitration unilaterally sought by Manila against China in 2013.

Ties between Beijing and Manila were sunk after the initiation of the arbitration. From the very start of the arbitral process, China has refused to accept or participate.

In the wake of recent comments made by various Chinese officials about the arbitration, the statement said "the door of China-Philippines bilateral negotiation is always open".

Observers and the media have increasingly called on the Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte and his expected administration to quit the arbitration and return to the table for two-way negotiations.

The arbitral case is still pending. Some media and observers said the expected ruling by the arbitral tribunal would be made in a few weeks.

China will remain committed to settling through negotiation the relevant disputes "on the basis of respecting historical facts and in accordance with international law," the ministry wrote.

In the past weeks, Washington has publicly pressed Beijing to accept the ruling. That also included a call from US Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Saturday at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said although it remained to be seen if the incoming Philippine administration would quit the arbitration and return to the table for talks, "it is apparent that the arbitration – from it very beginning – has led to increasing, not decreasing, number of problems between Beijing and Manila".

"Other regional countries will come to the conclusion that embarking on such an arbitration will obtain no benefit, not to mention resolving any of the existing disputes," Wu said.

Jia Duqiang, a researcher of Southeast Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said as the arbitration process came to a critical moment, all parties knew clearly that "no good will serve any party if the big picture is damaged". He also said the incoming administration was re-evaluating its policies towards China.

The Foreign Ministry's statement refers to a slew of two-way agreements signed in the past few decades to show that Manila has betrayed bilateral consensus on resolving their disputes through bilateral talks.

The agreement included "The Joint Statement between the People's Republic of China and the Republic of the Philippines concerning Consultations on the South China Sea and on Other Areas of Cooperation" in 1995.

The 1995 document said "a gradual and progressive process of cooperation shall be adopted with a view to eventually negotiating a settlement of the bilateral disputes."

Manila's sought-after unilateral arbitration "is a violation of the principle of Pacta sunt servanda and an abuse of the UNCLOS dispute settlement procedures. It goes against international law, including UNCLOS," the statement read.

Refuting Manila's assertion that the two governments were engaged in a number of exchanges of views since 1995 on the subject-matters of the arbitration, the Foreign Ministry wrote: "China and the Philippines have held multiple rounds of consultations on the proper management of disputes at sea, but have by far had no negotiation designed to settle the relevant disputes in the South China Sea."

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