Philippines rejects China's offer of conditional talks

Manila: Philippines on Tuesday rejected an offer of bilateral talks on the South China Sea conflict with China after the latter demanded they be conducted without taking into account the recent ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague. "China's foreign minister had asked us to open ourselves for bilateral negotiations, but outside, or in disregard of, the arbitral ruling," Philippines' Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay said in an interview with state-run broadcaster ABS-CBN. "This is something I told him was not consistent with our constitution and our national interest," he added. On July 12, the PCA had ruled in favour of Manila in its territorial dispute in South China Sea with Beijing, and concluded China has no historic claims over resources in much of the area that it claims, EFE news reported. However, China dismissed the verdict, terming it illegal and unjust. Yasay said he has spoken to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi during the ASEM summit held over the weekend in Mongolia, and that the Chinese minister had insisted that Manila make no comment on the PCA decision. He added Wang had threatened the two countries "might be headed for a confrontation" if Manila does not change its position, and stressed China will have to reconsider its position on the matter and learn to respect the international community. However, Yasay said he still believed in the possibility of alternate bilateral negotiations and proposed official visits by President Rodrigo Duterte to China and Xi Jinping to the Philippines. The dispute between the two neighbours revolves around the Scarborough Shoal and part of the Spratly islands - which comprises over 750 reefs, islets, atolls and keys - whose sovereignty is claimed wholly or partially by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. The South China Sea dispute escalated in recent years amid altercations, exchange of accusations between the respective governments, as well as a rise in Chinese military presence in the area. Meanwhile, the Philippines has entered into strategic agreements with the US, Japan and Vietnam to counter Chinese presence in the region.