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No terms in PH-China dialogue

Initial talks to build confidence, mutual trust

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by Genalyn Kabiling

Beijing — No preconditions will be imposed by the Philippine government in the upcoming first round of bilateral dialogue with China on managing the dispute in the South China Sea, according to Senator Alan Peter Cayetano.

Cayetano, newly appointed secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), said the bilateral consultation mechanism (BCM) would be “a good start” to build confidence and help tear down walls amid a territorial conflict involving the two countries.

“Both sides agreed to stop talking without conditions. If any of the two sides starts with conditions, there will be no talks. If there are no talks, we will be worse off where we are now,” he said in a press conference at the Grand Hyatt Hotel here last Sunday night.

STRONG BOND — President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (left) is welcomed by China President Xi Jinping to the first session of the Leaders’ Roundtable, which centered on the theme ‘Policy Synergy for Closer Partnership,’ on the second day of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation at Yanqi Lake International Convention Center in the northern suburbs of Beijing, China, Monday. (Malacañang Photo | Manila Bulletin)

STRONG BOND — President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (left) is welcomed by China President Xi Jinping to the first session of the Leaders’ Roundtable, which centered on the theme ‘Policy Synergy for Closer Partnership,’ on the second day of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation at Yanqi Lake International Convention Center in the northern suburbs of Beijing, China, Monday. (Malacañang Photo | Manila Bulletin)

“It’s inaugural so it’s very short. It’s really confidence-building, building of mutual trust, showing each other that we can start to talk,” he said.

The Philippines and China had earlier agreed to set up a BCM to resolve disputes in the South China Sea and foster maritime cooperation and security. The first meeting of the BCM will reportedly be held this week at the sidelines of the ASEAN-China ministerial summit in southwest China.

Cayetano admitted that the dialogue between the Philippines and China may “remove walls” but would not immediately “move mountains.” Both countries, he said, would be guided by their respective Constitution and laws in carrying out the bilateral mechanism.

“It will be a good start but we’re, you know, you don’t expect to move mountains in the first meeting. But let me just say it will remove walls. So from a wall, there will now be a bridge,” he said.

CLAIMS WON’T BE ABANDONED

Cayetano assured that the Philippines will continue to assert its territorial rights during the bilateral dialogue

“The President is not only sincere. He is steadfast in protecting Philippine territory. We’ll not give an inch in our claims, territorial, and sovereignty rights, our economic entitlements,” he said.

The senator, however, declined to say when the Philippines would raise the arbitral ruling, which nullified China’s claims in the South China and virtually upheld the country’s maritime entitlements, during the dialogue.

“As to when and what we will take up, may I apologize to you sincerely, that’s a matter of strategy and tactics. And you do not announce your strategy o tactics to the world and to the opposite side,” he said.

If the dispute was a sports battle, Cayetano said the government intends to win the “gold medal” but won’t reveal its cards on how to go about it.

ECONOMIC TIES FIRST

Duterte, who is visiting Beijing to attend a summit on China’s ambitious new Silk Road plan, has opted to court China for its business and investment and avoid the rows over sovereignty that dogged his predecessors.

President Duterte chose to temporarily put the arbitration case on a different track as he focused on enhancing the country’s economic relations with China for now. But he has promised not to surrender any sovereignty to Beijing, saying he would raise the arbitral judgment “at a time most fitting and advantageous” to Filipinos.

Cayetano said the ultimate goal of the bilateral dialogue is to promote peace, stability, and development in the region.

“If there is no tension, we can develop on all parts. Our military can modernize, they won’t be stretched thinly, our tourism can go up,” he said.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague had earlier ruled over the South China Sea disputes in favor of the Philippines. The arbitration court ruled that China has no historical rights to the resource-rich waters but Beijing has refused to recognize the decision.

JOINT EXPLORATION CLARIFIED

Meanwhile, Cayetano said the Philippine government is inclined to focus on protecting the country’s territorial rights rather than consider jointly exploring oil and gas reserves with other claimants in the South China Sea.

He issued the statement to keep distance from the proposal of former House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. about the country’s possible oil exploration with China and Vietnam in the disputed area.

Cayetano said De Venecia, who was recently appointed the country’s special envoy for intercultural dialogue, is a known “peacemaker” who merely gave a personal opinion on the proposed oil venture with two other claimants in an effort to promote peace in the disputed territory.

“I am not speaking for the DFA, I am speaking as the chair of the Committee on Foreign Relations. I think ang direction natin, nasa peace, stability, at tsaka ‘yung focusing on our claims and then focusing on our economy,” Cayetano said in a media interview Sunday night.

“So wala pa tayo doon sa ano ‘no, joint exploration or joint development or any of those schemes,” he said.

De Venecia had earlier proposed the tripartite oil exploration in the South China Sea not only to promote peace and cooperation but also lessen dependence on imported petroleum from the Middle East.

ZONE OF FRIENDSHIP

The former Pangasinan lawmaker, speaking before the Belt and Road Forum session on people-to-people connectivity in Beijing last Sunday, said South China Sea could be converted into a “zone of friendship, commerce and development” instead of just being a source of conflict among the concerned parties.

Asked if the President was open to joint oil exploration with China and other nations, Cayetano said Duterte made clear that he merely mentioned about sharing wealth or natural resources in case another country conducts a unilateral exploration activity in the contested area.

“But that doesn’t mean we can just go through it because it will benefit our people. There’s a legal framework that we have to follow and look at,” he added.

He said part of the country’s mineral exploration rules is the inclusion of Filipino scientists in the endeavor and sharing any results of research.

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