By Manny Mogato, News5 editor-at-large
(July 15, 2020) — China’s foreign minister has called up his Filipino counterpart to discuss an irritant between the two countries’ relations after the Philippines called on Beijing to comply with the international arbitration court’s decision on the South China Sea, the foreign affairs department said in a statement.
Beijing’s Wang Yi held on Tuesday a virtual meeting with Manila’s Teodoro Locsin Jr to remind him about an agreement between the two countries on how to resolve the maritime dispute in the South China Sea, and, at the same, rejected the ruling as “invalid”.
But the foreign affairs department, in a statement, said the meeting was “open, cordial and fruitful” as both sides “reaffirmed the contentious maritime issues are not the sum total of the Philippines-China bilateral relationship”.
“With mutual respect, sincerity, and adherence to sovereign equality, both sides will continue to manage issues of concern and promote maritime cooperation in friendly consultation. Both sides agree to strengthen Philippines-China comprehensive strategic cooperation,” the DFA said.
But a diplomatic source told News5 China was not pleased on the strongly-worded statement issued by Locsin on the fourth anniversary of Manila’s legal victory at The Hague on Sunday.
Beijing has also summoned the Philippine ambassador in China to explain Locsin’s tough statements, saying the maritime issues are non-negotiable and it should adhere to an international rules-based approach in settling the dispute.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea which was believed to have rich deposits of energy resources. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have conflicting claims on the strategic waterway where $3 trillion worth of sea-borne goods pass every year.
Locsin’s tough comments were followed by the US State Secretary Mike Pompeo’s statement on its official position on the dispute in the South China Sea, the first time Washington made a statement taking the Philippine side in the dispute.
Beijing obviously did not like the Locsin-Pompeo positions as Wang reminded Philippine government of a “consensus” it had forged with China “on properly handling the so-called arbitration case” to repair the two Asian neighbors’ strained relations.
China said the agreement “has laid down solid ground for the turning-around of bilateral relations.”
Earlier the Chinese embassy in Manila said “China does not accept or participate in the arbitration, nor does it accept or recognize the so-called award” which the Philippines won four years ago.
“In recent years, under the strategic guidance of the leaders of both countries, China-Philippines relations have maintained healthy and steady momentum, with exchanges and cooperation in various fields making continuous progress,” the Chinese embassy statement said.
The embassy said the two countries should use the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea or BCM to resolve relevant issues through joint negotiation and consultation.
During the same video call with his Filipino counterpart, Wang also condemned the United States for sowing discord between China and ASEAN countries, and urged the Philippines to “look forward, not backwards.”
The Duterte administration, which has downplayed the ruling, has said it would rather continue to pursue bilateral relations with China, making no mention of Locsin’s previous statement.
On Wednesday, the foreign affairs department mirrored the position of the Malacanang, saying “Secretary Locsin reiterated the importance of continued dialogue to propel Philippines-China cooperation forward across various fronts, under the “new normal” brought about by the global COVID-19 pandemic.”
“The two Foreign Ministers recognized that Philippines-China bilateral relations have achieved a positive turn around and a sound momentum of development through the joint efforts and mutual trust of both sides,” the DFA added.
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