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China sees bilateral deal with new PH President

/ 04:58 AM May 07, 2016

CHINA is looking forward to a bilateral settlement of the dispute in the South China Sea with the new Philippine President, its envoy said on Thursday.

Ambassador Zhao Jinhua expressed the hope that the new Philippine leader would be willing to sit down for bilateral talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping to address conflicting claims to the 3.5-million-square-kilometer sea.

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“That is our hope,” he said when asked if the next Philippine President should push for bilateral talks with China, “because China has always been open for bilateral negotiations with the Philippines.”

“Bilateral negotiations [on South China Sea] should focus on areas that can benefit the two countries. We’re open for a peaceful, binding and durable bilateral agreement,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the European Union National Day at the Dusit Hotel in Makati City on Thursday night.

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Zhao, the Chinese ambassador to the Philippines, noted that China has been successful in negotiating disputes with Vietnam and Russia on bilateral levels even though this took 40 years.

The Philippines is electing a new leader on Monday.

Three island groups are at the center of dispute between China and the Philippines, including the Spratlys, a chain of up to 190 islands, reefs, coral outcrops and banks believed to be sitting atop large deposits of oil and natural gas.

China claims almost all of the energy-rich waters of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of maritime trade passes each year. The Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan have overlapping claims.

China’s increasingly assertive moves in the waters, including building artificial islands and airports, have rattled nerves around the world.

Zhao said the Chinese government has been monitoring policy statements by presidential candidates on the issue of addressing the territorial dispute. He stressed that China does not interfere in the domestic affairs of the Philippines.

“But whoever wins (in the presidential elections) we hope that he or she can improve or work toward  better relations … We want to have a new chapter in the bilateral relations between China and the Philippines,” he said.

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Zhao said the new chapter of bilateral relations should focus “on common interests” such as economic, financial and trade cooperation, promotion of tourism and people to people cooperation.

President Aquino held talks with Xi at the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Summit in 2014 in Beijing.

Zhao said there was no “conflict” between the two countries.  He said Beijing had always been open to bilateral and multilateral settlement of disputes with claimant-countries.

Mr. Aquino has always underlined the Philippines’ multilateral approach to the row during Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summits.

Zhao said China was involved in the implementation of the Declaration on the  Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) signed by China and the  Asean.

“China is also seriously discussing the fundamentals of a binding code of conduct with Asean countries,” the ambassador said.

Asean has been pushing for a code of conduct that would replace the DOC, a 2002 non-aggression pact that has failed to stop clashes in the international waterway. China has argued that the time wasn’t ripe yet for this.

Foreign Undersecretary Linglingay Lacanlale, in a speech at the EU National Day, highlighted the strong partnership between the Philippines and EU, particularly on Manila’s arbitration case against China’s territorial claim to the sea.

“The dynamism (of Philippines-EU relations)  is reflected in our shared commitment to pursue peaceful and durable solutions to pressing concerns such as EU’s principled position for a rules-based and peaceful settlement of disputes in the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea, its deep engagement with the Philippines and Asean,” she said.

China has been stepping up its rhetoric ahead of a ruling expected in a few weeks by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on a case the Philippines has brought against China’s claims in the South China Sea.

The ruling is widely expected to favor the Philippines and risks significantly raising regional tensions because China rejects the court’s authority to hear the case, even though it is a signatory of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea under which it is being heard.

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TAGS: China, Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jinhua, Philippine president, South China Sea, territorial disputes, West Philippine Sea
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