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Yasay rules out bilateral talks with China before tribunal decision

The Philippines will not pursue bilateral talks with China until an international tribunal decides on a case brought by Manila in connection with claims in the South China Sea, incoming Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay said Friday.

The Philippines has brought a case at an international tribunal in The Hague contesting China's claims, a case rejected by China which wants to solve the issue bilaterally.

"We should not pursue any bilateral talks at this time until we hear, or wait for, the outcome of the decision of the arbitral tribunal to come out," Yasay said in a television interview.

Yasay's remarks follows advice from a former Philippine foreign minister and a US security expert for President-elect Rodrigo Duterte not to hold unconditional bilateral talks with China to try to resolve the dispute.


Yasay said the Philippine government should first review the decision of the tribunal before deciding which step is the best move for the nation.

“We must first see what the decision is all about. If it is in favor of the Philippines, then we must fully understand what it means when we say it is in favor of the Philippines – what are the legal implications, and when the decision would imply that the other claimants including Vietnam, Brunei, and the rest of the other nations that have overlapping claims in the area would be affected by the decision –then certainly multilateral talks will have to be pursued. Otherwise, we will be leaving out nations to who have a stake in the issue,” he explained.

But Yasay made it clear that bilateral talks will be pursued if the decision allows it.

“On the other hand, when we will be reviewing the decision and we see that the ruling will require simply bilateral talks with China, then by all means, let’s pursue that. Let’s not drop the chance or the opportunity to pursue bilateral talks with China,” the incoming Foreign Affairs secretary said.

Also in the television interview, Yasay dismissed an American security analyst’s remark that the Philippines should not pursue bilateral talks until China drops its nine-dash claim. He said that the government will consider paramount national interests before anything else.

“I think even this administration and the incoming administration will have to decide on this issue considering the paramount national interest. We should not simply act on the basis of what other nations say. We should really act in protection and in upholding of our national interests. And this is how we should proceed on the matter,” he said.

“And I am sure the international community respects that we should carry on an independent foreign policy and do so precisely to uphold the paramount national interests. I would think that the basis of our action whether we would proceed on the bilateral or multilateral would be if it promotes national interest,” Yasay added.

China said on Wednesday the Philippines had ignored a proposal for a regular talks mechanism over maritime issues, as it repeated that its door was always open to bilateral talks with Manila.

China claims most of the waters, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims. — Reuters and Trisha Macas/RSJ, GMA News