The Philippines is refusing to negotiate with China over their South China Sea dispute because of Beijing’s insistence that a court ruling that nullified most of its claims be left off the table.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay met his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, on the sidelines of a meeting of Asian and European leaders in Mongolia at the weekend.
But after the ruling was raised, it became clear it was a no-go area, Reuters reports.
The Chinese foreign ministry later said in a statement that the two ministers had “informal contact”.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than US$5 trillion of trade moves annually.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have rival claims.
Wang said if the Philippines was willing to resume talks, manage divisions and improve relations, China would meet it halfway, according to the statement.
China has angrily rejected the verdict by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague and the initial case as illegal and farcical.
It has repeatedly said it will not change its approach or its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.
“They said if you will insist on the ruling, discussing it along those lines, then we might be headed for a confrontation,” Yasay said during an interview with the ABS-CBN television network.
“But I really honestly feel that this is something they have to make on a public basis but I also sensed there was room for us to talk very quietly using backdoor channeling.”
Yasay said Wang had proposed bilateral talks but only on issues “outside, or [in] disregard of, the arbitral ruling”, which he declined because it was not in the Philippines’ national interests.
The Chinese foreign ministry’s account of Wang’s remarks struck a more conciliatory tone and did not mention pre-conditions.
“Promoting a return to dialogue in China-Philippine relations is in the fundamental interests of the two countries and their people,” the statement said.
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