Bilateral talks to resolve South China Sea ‘irritants’

Malacañang on Monday, April 29, said China is open to bilateral talks to resolve the territorial incursions raised by President Rodrigo Duterte during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jingping last week.

According to Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, Xi expressed willingness to discuss “irritants,” such as the increased presence of Chinese vessels in disputed areas, despite reiterating Beijing’s claims to the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

“What the president mentioned [were] the irritants. [They refer] to everything there. From the presence of the ships, from the alleged harassment, all of it — the irritants,” said Panelo at a press briefing.

“Both sides repeated their previous positions on the matter, and they both agreed that whatever irritants, challenges, [these] can be resolved through negotiation,” he added.

He also quoted Duterte, saying the irritants arose from the 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated China’s claim over nearly the entire South China Sea.

“And both of them agreed that the mechanism of bilateral relations will be used to resolve the conflict,” Panelo said.

He noted the government’s optimism over “positive” results; however, he admitted that there is still much to be done.

“The next movement will be the negotiation. They already talked about the irritants. But, if you were to ask me, we have to wait for their official response about our complaints,” he said.

Duterte, who previously set aside an international arbitral ruling that upheld the Philippines’ claims, recently became adamant about his stance against continued Chinese incursions as Chinese vessels reportedly circled the Philippine-held Pagasa (Thitu) Island. He also demanded that the Chinese fisherfolk to stop harvesting the giant clams in Scarborough Shoal.

“We raised certain protests. We still do not know if they are affirming or disputing it. Because if they dispute it, we will talk and [insist that] it is not true,” Panelo said.

“What is that? Who is that? Why is it there? What are they doing there? We do not know the answers to that yet,” he added.

Panelo, however, confirmed that the two leaders have made an agreement to discuss the specifics of the maritime row as well as the arbitral ruling in the next session of the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea, which the Philippines and China set up in 2016.

“That would be discussed there, it will be more specific there. Bilaterals usually dwell on general issues, both of them are reading their messages,” Panelo said, referring to Duterte and Xi. 


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