Arbitration Ruling, the Elephant in the Room during Duterte-Xi Talks

Pres. Rodrigo Duterte and Pres. Xi Jinping hold bilateral meeting at teh Great Hall of the People in Bejing. (Malacanang photo by King Rodriguez)

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to adopt every textbook approach on the issue of the South China Sea territorial dispute but they were muted on the arbitral tribunal ruling during their bilateral talks.

In joint statement released after the bilateral meeting on Thursday, Philippines and China reaffirmed their commitments to universally recognized principles of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations and the 1982 UNCLOS and the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, but there was no reference to The Hague ruling.

“Both sides exchange views on issues regarding the South China Sea. Both sides affirm that contentious issues are not the sum total of the Philippines-China bilateral relationship. Both sides exchange views on the importance of handling the disputes in the South China Sea in an appropriate manner. Both sides also reaffirm the importance of maintaining and promoting peace and stability, freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea, addressing their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned,” the joint statement said.

The Philippines filed an arbitration case against China in January 2013 at a Permanent Court of Arbitration Tribunal at The Hague. It sought to denigrate the 9-dashed line claim of China in the South China Sea and sought clarification on the maritime entitlements of the disputed land features there. On July 12 this year, the arbitral award was a clean sweep in favor of the Philippines, a decision China rejected.

Duterte earlier said it will not initiate talks on the arbitral decision in this first opportunity for both Philippines and China to talk three months after The Hague PCA ruling. Duterte said out of courtesy, he will let China take the lead in raising the arbitration decision so as not to destroy the goodwill fostered by his first state visit. Both countries referred to the visit as a milestone in the history of their bilateral relations.

The 47-point document also bared an agreement for a bilateral consultation mechanism to explore other areas of cooperation and other confidence-building measures that will increase mutual trust and confidence and to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities in the South China Sea that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.

“In addition to and without prejudice to other mechanisms, a bilateral consultation mechanism can be useful, which will meet regularly on current and other issues of concern to either side on the South China Sea,” the joint statement said.

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