Duterte, Xi to discuss sea row in Beijing meeting
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping will tackle the South China Sea dispute as they meet in Beijing on Thursday, Manila’s top envoy to China said Wednesday.
Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana said the “West Philippine Sea has been the subject of very tense diplomatic discussions” as China continued its aggression in the disputed waterway, including deploying maritime militia vessels near Philippine-occupied islands.
“The two leaders usually do a general review of the situation of the bilateral relation, including the situation of the South China Sea and our concerns in the West Philippine Sea,” Sta. Romana told Filipino reporters in Beijing.
“I should add here that the West Philippine Sea has been the subject of very tense diplomatic discussions. We had a bilateral consultative mechanism in early April. I participated in that,” he added.
Sta. Romana said he hoped that the bilateral meeting between the President and Xi would ease tensions in the disputed sea.
“That is our hope. That is our goal — to ease the tension in the West Philippine Sea, to maintain peace and stability in the area, to avoid miscalculation, to prevent conflict,” he said.
The Philippines had filed “a salvo of diplomatic protests after the presence Chinese maritime militia in the West Philippine Sea and the mass harvesting of giant clams at Scarborough Shoal.
Sta. Romana said that, despite the differences between Manila and Beijing, both governments would want to resolve the issues through diplomatic means.
“We recognize that given this difference, we want to resolve, to deal with them through diplomacy so that it will not be a crisis point and so that we can resolve this slowly over time. Sovereignty issue as you know can take years, if not decades, maybe generations,” he said.
“In the meantime though, the key is not to lose what you’re holding onto. And to gain access if you lost — whatever you have lost. And at the same time, to make sure that this underlying difference in sovereignty does not become an obstacle to developing relations,” he added.
Scarborough Shoal is a traditional fishing ground within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone that Beijing seized after a two-month standoff with the Philippine Navy in 2012.
“The lesson of Scarborough is keep cool, stick to diplomacy, don’t withdraw and keep talking,” Sta. Romana said.
Earlier, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said that the United States brokered talks to end the standoff between China and the Philippines at Scarborough Shoal and got them to agree to simultaneously pull out their ships from the area.
The Philippines did, but China remained in the area, Del Rosario said.
“Don’t let another power talk on your behalf, broker a deal that you cannot verify. You have to do it yourself and talk to them directly. So that’s what we’re trying to avoid, a loss of any territory that we are… that is under our control. Hold on to what we have,” Sta. Romana said.
“What we have lost in the past, if we could regain access through diplomacy. Diplomacy is the first line of defense. And we persist in it and we try to accomplish our goals through peaceful, diplomatic means,” he added.
The Philippines sealed a historic win against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in July 2016, which invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claims to almost all of the South China Sea.
China has refused, however, to recognize the ruling.
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