Despite the two countries’ “friendship,” Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua on Friday said Beijing’s rejection of Manila’s arbitral victory at the Permanent Court of Arbitration over the disputed South China Sea will remain—even if President Rodrigo Duterte finally brings it up with his counterpart, President Xi Jinping.
“Our position has been clearly stated at the very beginning of the filing of the arbitration. And when the result of the arbitration [was rendered]… we also expressed that we will not accept it and we will not recognize it. Our position has not changed, and will not be changed,” Zhao said on the sidelines of a ceremony at the Department of the Interior and Local Government to acknowledge a P10-million donation from the Chinese government to victims of the recent earthquake in Batanes.
On a parallel issue, Malacañang said Friday China should accord the Philippines the “courtesies” required of “friends” after Beijing’s research vessels and warships were sighted in the country’s waters.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said China did not ask for clearance before several of its warships passed through the Sibutu Strait in the country’s southern tip four time from February to July.
“We’re friends, we provide each other with courtesies required of friendship,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo told reporters Friday.
Panelo said he agrees with Lorenzana that Beijing should have asked Manila for clearance, but noted that it is yet to be confirmed whether the Chinese government allowed the incursions.
“Even on the basis of friendship, then a matter of courtesy require that we should be informed of any passage to our exclusive economic zone,” Panelo said.
Zhao also downplayed the rising tensions, saying Beijing is “not seeking trouble” amid the unresolved disputes in the vital waterway.
“There are a lot of ships that [are] navigating in the South China Sea. Within military, I think each one of the ships, particularly Navy ships, deserves careful observation. Not only the Chinese and the Philippines know but also everyone,” Zhao said on the sidelines of an event.
“China will continue to be a good friend, a good neighbor and close relatives of the Filipino people,” he said.
On Tuesday, Duterte said he plans to discuss the July 12, 2016 arbitral award with the Chinese president during his upcoming trip to Beijing, his fifth as President.
But Zhao expressed optimism that the friendly ties between China and the Philippines under the Duterte administration will not be affected by the President’s plan.
He added that he believes the President would not be confrontational when he brings up the award.
The arbitral award invalidated the China’s “nine-dash-line” claims over the South China Sea and clarified the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, including the West Philippine Sea.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration also ruled in favor of the Philippines that the potentially oil-rich Recto (Reed) Bank was inside the country’s West Philippine Sea.
For three years, Duterte chose not to bring the award up in talks with Beijing, preferring to pursue warmer ties with China.
On Tuesday, he said the time has come for him to assert Manila’s rights to the disputed sea.
The administration has been repeatedly criticized for setting aside the arbitral award in pursuit of warmer relations with Beijing and to attract investments from China.
The President also received flak over his verbal agreement with Xi on fishing in disputed waters after a Chinese ship hit and sank a Filipino fishing boat near Recto Bank in June, a case he called a simple maritime incident.
Meanwhile, Zhao said that Beijing will not seek a larger share of oil and gas resources in the West Philippine Sea in a joint venture.
“There is one thing I can assure you. China will not insist on a larger share than that of the Philippines from the perspective of the government. It’s really up to the enterprises concerned, the two sides to decide,” Zhao said, in an interview.
Zhao’s assurance came a day after President Rodrigo Duterte said he would push for the joint exploitation of natural resources in the disputed waters when he meets Xi later this month.
Duterte said he sees nothing wrong with China’s proposal of 60-40 deal to split oil resources in the West Philippine Sea in Manila’s favor.
The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding concerning oil and gas exploration when Xi visited the country last year.
Duterte also signed an executive order earlier this year making it easier for the government to enter into oil exploration and development deals with third parties.
The Chief Executive is scheduled to visit China later this month to discuss maritime issues with Xi. It would be his fifth visit to China since he took office in 2016.
Duterte said the territorial dispute is “becoming a very big issue,” but saying he does not want trouble.
Duterte also said he will raise the creation of the binding code of conduct between the claimants in South China Sea.
He said the creation of the code, which will outline the peaceful resolution of maritime disputes, is being delayed by China.
The Palace said Friday that the President will get “something” out of his friendship with China.
Panelo said this was after Duterte had claimed that he will push joint oil exploration in the West Philippine Sea.
“We have to get something out of this friendship. I think the joint exploration [deal] will be a good one given the fact that it was the Chinese government that offered the 60-40 deal,” Panelo said.
Duterte said that he favors China’s proposal to share oil resources in the West Philippine Sea, as long as the government will get a bigger share.
Panelo also said the government is hoping that China will change its aggressive stance in the disputed territories after Duterte’s visit.
“Friends can alter their positions because of friendships,” he said.
But Zhao asserted that the conflicting claims between China and the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea only constitute 1 percent of the diplomatic relationship of two countries.
“We should focus on the things that will benefit our common development, that will benefit the peoples of the two countries,” the Chinese official said.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Beijing should explain why Chinese research vessels and warships are entering Philippine territorial waters.
Speaking on the ANC news channel, Lorenzana said China did not ask for clearance when several of its warships passed through the Sibutu Strait in four instances from February to July.
He said China needs to inform its neighbors what their ships are doing to allay their fears.
The Department of Foreign Affairs will file another diplomatic protest against China, this time in connection with the two Chinese vessels that reportedly entered the Philippines exclusive economic zone.
Foreign Affairs Secretary said on his Twitter account that they are firing off the diplomatic protest after Lorenzana questioned the presence of Chinese research vessels and warships in Philippine waters.