PH, China open to resolve WPS ‘irritants’ through negotiations

MANILA President Rodrigo Duterte brought up the presence of "irritants" in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) during his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week, MalacaAang bared on Monday.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said "irritants" refer to the presence of the Chinese vessels surrounding Pag-asa Island and the alleged harassment of Filipino fishermen, among others.

"They repeated their previous stand. But what is more important is that, kasi sabi ni Presidente (the President said), there have been irritants because of that ruling," Panelo said in a Palace briefing.

Duterte and Xi met during their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the 2nd Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, China from April 25 to 27 where both leaders reiterated their respective stands on the sea row.

Panelo said the two leaders also agreed to use a bilateral consultation mechanism to resolve the conflict.

"The fact na sinabi niya na (that Chinese President Xi said) 'we will resolve that in the bilateral negotiations.' So, di ibig sabihin open sila(that means they are open)," Panelo said.

"When you open yourself to negotiation relative to whatever irritants or challenges that are raised in relation to the ruling, then ibig sabihin, malambot sila pareho; so pag-uusapan nila (that means both countries are amenable; so they'll talk about it)," he added.

Panelo said China's guarantee to withdraw their vessels in the contested waters was not brought up in detail.

He, however, said Duterte was "respectful" in raising the issue on irritants in the contested waters but will continue to assert Philippine sovereignty.

"The President is always respectful," Panelo said.

"What is important, the President is very assertive on our principled stand that that territory is ours," he added.

Panelo said the two leaders also agreed that as "allies", Philippines and China should "strengthen each other" and "not destroy each other."

No need for consent

Panelo, meanwhile, said the Philippines does not need consent from China before declaring some parts of the West Philippine Sea, including Pag-asa Island, as marine protected areas (MPAs).

"That's ours. You don't have to ask any consent from anyone," Panelo said, stressing that despite China's claim, the Philippines had its own claim.

He emphasized that it is only through bilateral negotiations where disagreements can be resolved, warning declaring the area as MPA could become another "irritant."

"That will be another irritant. If you declare a particular stand and they will declare another stand, oh 'di may (then there's a) deadlock," Panelo said.

Earlier, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. raised the possibility that the Philippines could declare Pag-asa Island and Ayungin Shoal as MPAs.

On July 12, 2016, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) released its decision nullifying China's nine-dash line map which covers nearly the whole of WPS.

China has repeatedly rejected the ruling, prompting Duterte to opt for peaceful and friendly dialogues and a promise to assert the PCA's verdict before the end of his term in 2022. (PNA)

Source: Philippines News Agency