MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines will fight for its landmark arbitration victory to be upheld when it talks about resolving its South China Sea disputes with China, which has refused to recognize the ruling, the government lawyer said Friday.
The Philippine position disclosed by Solicitor General Jose Calida runs against that of China, which opposes use of the tribunal ruling as basis for any negotiations. New President Rodrigo Duterte has sought talks with China to resolve the territorial row and revive relations, saying Chinese officials have promised to finance railway projects he has envisioned for the country.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a briefing that China welcomes Duterte’s willingness to start talks. “The door to settling the issue through dialogue and negotiation has never been closed,” Lu said.
However, he reiterated Beijing’s stance that the tribunal ruling should not be the basis for any action between the sides.
Under a 1982 U.N. treaty governing the world’s oceans, the Philippines had sought arbitration in 2013 on several issues related to territorial rifts with China. In its ruling Tuesday, the tribunal found China’s far-reaching claims to the South China Sea had no legal basis and that Beijing had violated Philippine maritime rights by constructing artificial islands and disrupting Filipino fishing and oil exploration.
Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, brought the case against China and bolstered security relations with treaty ally the United States to deter assertive Chinese actions, considerably straining ties.
Duterte, however, has been more reconciliatory to Beijing and has not celebrated the huge victory. He has ordered government lawyers to study the ruling and has not disclosed his plan to secure Chinese compliance.
After being sworn in on June 30, Duterte told members of his Cabinet before the ruling was delivered that it should have a “soft landing” when it comes. “We don’t taunt or flaunt it,” he said.
Calida, however, praised the Philippine victory as a “historic win” in a forum on the ruling and said the Duterte administration would work to have the widely praised decision upheld when it holds proposed talks with China.
“The award is a historic win not only for the Philippines but for the international community because it renews the humanity’s faith in a rules-based global order,” Calida said in a speech. “The award is a crowning glory of international law.”
Calida later told reporters that “the baseline for any negotiation should be the decision,” adding “we will not concede any awards given to us.”
While prodding China to “respect” the decision, Calida said the government would deal with Beijing diplomatically to foster better relations.
“The Philippines will not sacrifice what we have obtained from this decision but we will also pursue diplomatic means hopefully to convince China that we can co-exist peacefully,” he said.
“We will be patient, of course, and hopefully China will also show the same grace that we have shown when we did not, as wanted by some sectors of society, gloat about this victory,” he said.
Despite the ruling protecting Filipino fishing rights in the Scarborough Shoal, Chinese coast guard ships blocked Filipino fishermen Thursday from approaching the disputed area that is traditional fishing grounds for Filipinos.
Asked if the Duterte government would help the Filipinos regain access to the Chinese-guarded shoal, Calida said the government would, diplomatically.
The tribunal has no enforcement arm but Calida said its ruling could be used to foster adherence to the rule of law.
“While there is no so-called world sheriff to enforce it, the award can function as a focal point that enables the state and non-state actors to bring countries in line with international law,” Calida said.