Beijing calls for talks with Manila

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. Source: Wikimedia

Beijing says it is ready to start negotiations with Manila over the South China Sea if the new president, Rodrigo Duterte, ignores a July 12 arbitration ruling on their territorial dispute.

The official China Daily said Beijing would dismiss the ruling of case the Philippines brought to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. It is expected to rule in Manila’s favour.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei and now Indonesia have overlapping claims with China in the resource-rich South China Sea. Beijing has already rejected court’s jurisdiction, saying it wants to solve the issue bilaterally, downplaying the outcome of the case.

Talks between China and the Philippines could cover “issues such as joint development and cooperation in scientific research if the new government puts the tribunal’s ruling aside before returning to the table for talks”, the China Daily said.

China’s principal state-run English-language newspaper quoted a source saying: “Manila must put aside the result of the arbitration in a substantive approach.”

China’s Foreign Ministry announced in June it had agreed with the Philippines in 1995 to settle territorial disputes “in a peaceful and friendly manner through consultations on the basis of equity and mutual respect”.

“Objectively, the tribunal has no jurisdiction over the dispute,” said Sienho Yee, a law professor at China’s Wuhan University. “Negotiation has been agreed upon as the way to resolve the dispute.”

Beijing has announced it will conduct military drills in the sea with China’s Maritime Safety Administration saying exercises will be held from July 5 to 11 from China’s Hainan to the Paracel Islands, which are claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan.

It is significant that the military exercises are to take place near the Paracels, which are entirely under Chinese control, rather than the Spratlys, where the Philippines retains a military presence.

“The drills are a very symbolic expression of China’s resolve,” said Zhu Feng, dean of the Institute of International Affairs at Nanjing University. “It is definitely also responding to the recent American warships patrolling in the South China Sea.”

The US Navy has increased “freedom of navigation” exercises in the South China Sea since China’s construction of military bases and landing strips on reclaimed islands.

“It is very important for the Xi Jinping leadership to keep an eye on nationalist emotions in the lead to the court’s decision,” said Linda Jakobson, director of the Australian China Matters think tank.