By Wang Wen and Yang Tianmu
MANILA, June 8 (Xinhua) -- Politicians, international relations experts and opinion leaders from the Philippines on Wednesday called on President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to start bilateral talks with China on the South China Sea issue as soon as possible.
They noted that the forthcoming government needs not wait for a decision from an international tribunal in The Hague before talking to China.
The call was made as they gathered here to celebrate the 41st anniversary of the establishment of bilateral relations between the Philippines and China.
The call came as the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Wednesday issued a statement on settling disputes between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea through bilateral negotiations.
RESUMING BILATERAL NEGOTIATIONS
Speaking at the gathering, Francisco Tatad, a former senator, said "What we should control at all times is our national interest. Let us remember that the maritime disputes were there when the Philippines and China decided to establish diplomatic relations."
Tatad called on the Philippines to follow India's example to negotiate with China and talk about ways to improve the two countries' economic relations.
He reminded the audience that it was the Philippines who first did reclamation activities such as building airstrips in the South China Sea.
Alberto Encomienda, former secretary-general of Maritime and Ocean Affairs Center at the Department of Foreign Affairs, told Xinhua after the gathering "You don't have to finish that arbitration. Nobody even knows when it will be finished."
He said that the Philippines could even withdraw the case, and a withdrawal does not put the country to shame as long as it is in accordance with the country's vital interest.
"China has been for the negotiations all along, but from the beginning we are not," said Encomienda.
He eyed Durterte's recent meeting with Zhao Jianhua, the Chinese ambassador to the Philippines, as a good start for both sides.
Echoing Enconienda, Butch Valdes, former undersecretary of the Department of Education, told Xinhua that the Philippines will not have actual benefits even if the tribunal rules in favor of the country.
He stressed that the situation will be worse because a ruling from an international tribunal will only escalate tension in the South China Sea.
For her part, Aileen Baviera, a professor at the University of the Philippines, said bilateral talks with China "can be an avenue for resuming the confidence-building process" between the two countries.
Bilateral talks can also assure China that there is no intention to use arbitration and there is no intention to harm China's security interests, said Baviera.
FORMULATING INDEPENDENT FOREIGN POLICY
Also on the occasion, they said it is high time that the Philippines formulates its own independent foreign policy.
"During (President Benigno) Aquino (III)'s first state visit to the United States, the phrase 'rule of law' was emphasized. Everything that came up as the Philippines' position on the South China Sea afterwards has something to do with 'rule-based' and 'legal framework.' But these are the rule basis determined by the United States," noted Encomienda.
He said again and again at the gathering that his country is in urgent need of an independent foreign policy.
Valdes, in addition, asked the forthcoming government to review the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) which the Aquino administration signed with the U.S. government in April 2014.
He believed the agreement such as EDCA should not have been signed by the president in an "underhanded manner," rather it should have been sent to Senate for ratification.
"In the past three to four years, they (the U.S.) have made the country into a U.S. military base."
Duterte, who will be sworn into office on June 30, has said he will wait for the final decision from the tribunal but also noted that he will pursue bilateral talks with China if current efforts do not progress.
He even said that he might seek possible joint exploration in the South China Sea.
Relations between China and the Philippines have soured during Benigno Aquino III's six-year rule.
The Philippines unilaterally initiated an arbitration case against China in January 2013 over the South China Sea issue with an international tribunal in The Hague.
BEIJING, June 8 (Xinhua) -- The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Wednesday issued a statement on settling disputes between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea through bilateral negotiation. Following is the full text of the statement. Full story
JOHANNESBURG, June 2 (Xinhua) -- China will not give certain countries the satisfaction of tricking it into the trap of the South China Sea arbitration, Chinese Ambassador to South Africa, Tian Xuejun, said on Thursday.
In an article carried by Independent Media's nationwide newspaper The Star, Tian reveals the fallacy of the arbitration and reiterates the legitimacy of China's decision of neither participating in nor accepting the arbitration. Full story