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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Philippines rejects conditional talks on South China Sea dispute

The Philippines foreign minister says he has turned down a proposal from his Chinese counterpart to start bilateral talks on their South China Sea dispute, because China wants to ignore last week's arbitration ruling.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague last week ruled that there was no legal basis for Beijing's claims to much of the sea, embodied in a "nine-dash line" that dates from 1940s maps and stretches close to other countries' coasts.

Manila, which lodged the suit against Beijing, welcomed the decision, but China dismissed it as a "piece of waste paper".

"[China's foreign minister] had asked us to open ourselves for bilateral negotiations, but outside, or in disregard of, the arbitral ruling," Perfecto Yasay said, referring to the ruling from The Hague.

"This is something I told him was not consistent with our constitution and our national interest."

Mr Yasay said he met his counterpart on the sidelines of a summit of Asian and European leaders in Mongolia last week.

"They said if you will insist on the ruling, discussing it along those lines, then we might be headed for a confrontation," he said.

"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 channelling."

Manila wanted to enforce the points of the complex ruling step-by-step, but as a priority had asked China to let its fishermen go to the Scarborough Shoal without being harassed by its coastguard, Mr Yasay said.

China's coastguard was preventing Filipino boats from fishing around the hotly contested Scarborough Shoal, fishermen and officials said on Friday, and China's air force has released pictures showing bombers recently flying over the area.

We will never stop construction, China says

Meanwhile, China's maritime administration said it would close off access to part of the South China Sea for military drills this week.

The exercises will be held in an area off the east coast of China's island province of Hainan, far from the disputed Paracel and Spratly island groups.

During a meeting between top Chinese and US naval officials on Monday, Beijing remained defiant, asserting its right to continue controversial construction projects in the Spratly Islands, which are claimed by several countries in the region.

"We will never stop our construction on the Nansha Islands halfway," Wu Shengli, the commander of the People's Liberation Army Navy, told US counterpart Admiral John Richardson, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Nansha is China's name for the Spratly Islands.

"The Nansha Islands are China's inherent territory, and our necessary construction on the islands is reasonable, justified and lawful," Mr Wu added.

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