The Philippines has turned down a Chinese proposal to start bilateral talks, its foreign minister said on Tuesday, because of Beijing’s pre-condition of not discussing a court ruling that nullified most of its South China Sea claims.
Perfecto Yasay said he had met his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the sidelines of a summit of Asian and European leaders on the weekend and after raising the topic of last week’s ruling, it became clear that was a no-go area.
China has angrily rejected the verdict by the Permanent Court of Arbitration and the initial case as illegal and farcical. It has repeatedly said it will not change its approach or its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.
“They said if you will insist on the ruling, discussing it along those lines, then we might be headed for a confrontation,” Yasay said during an interview with the news channel of broadcaster ABS-CBN.
“But I really honestly feel that this is something they have to make on a public basis but I also sensed there was room for us to talk very quietly using backdoor channelling.”
Yasay said Yi had proposed bilateral talks but only on issues “outside, or [in] disregard of, the arbitral ruling,” which he declined because it was not in the Philippines’ national interests.
Yasay’s account of the meeting highlights the challenge ahead for the Philippines, a US ally, in getting China to comply with the decision which has ramped up tensions in the vital trade route.