Philippines Secretary of Foreign Affairs Perfecto Yasay said his government was “grateful” for India’s support in South China Sea dispute. He said its new President Duterte would meet PM Modi for the first time next week.
The Philippines government has hailed India’s support for its case against China on the South China Sea and has called for deepening ties as Prime Minister Narendra Modi embarks on Friday on key visits to the region.
Philippines Secretary of Foreign Affairs Perfecto Yasay Junior told India Today in Manila that the government was “grateful” for India’s support to the Philippines in the wake of a July arbitration on the South China Sea dispute.
There was new momentum for both countries to deepen ties, Yasay said, revealing that Modi has sought a bilateral meeting with new President Rodrigo Duterte on the sidelines of the upcoming East Asia Summit (EAS) on September 6 in Laos.
MODI LEAVES FOR EAST ASIA ON FRIDAY
Modi will leave on September 2 for a key visit to Vietnam, which like the Philippines has been embroiled in disputes with China over the South China Sea. He will travel to Laos for the EAS following the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China, on September 4 and 5, with the South China Sea dispute and China’s reclamation activities likely to dominate the EAS.
Yasay, who has the rank of foreign minister, expressed his government’s appreciation for India supporting the Philippines’ arbitration case on its dispute with China. A Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague ruled in July in favour of many of Manila’s claims and declared China’s ‘nine-dash line’ inconsistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“We have been very happy for India’s support of the actions taken by the Philippines in proceeding with the arbitration tribunal with the PCA and of the resolution of the conflicting claims we have with China. For that we are so grateful,” Yasay told India Today in Manila on the sidelines of a Japan-ASEAN media forum held by the Japan Foundation Asia Center.
Following the ruling, India issued a statement saying states should “exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that could complicate or escalate disputes affecting peace and stability.” India also said that “as a State Party to the UNCLOS, India urges all parties to show utmost respect for the UNCLOS, which establishes the international legal order of the seas and oceans.”
As much as Delhi has sought to play down its stand to not upset China, its engagement with Manila on the issue as well as its statement has been seen in the Philippines as a strong show of support, which the country believes has put it on a stronger position as it explores bilateral talks with China.
Underlining the new closeness in ties, Yasay said Modi had sought a first meeting with new strongman President Rodrigo Duterte, who came to power following a landslide win in May, when both leaders attend the East Asia Summit in Laos on September 6.
Their upcoming meeting is “a welcome development and from there on we can start talking about more cooperation and deepen the nature of this cooperation”, Yasay said. “I am sure the support that has been shown by India in its interest in the Philippines. We have common concerns, and this will be further pursued” when both leaders meet.
Yasay said the Philippines believed it was in a stronger position following the ruling but that at the same time it was keen to continue bilateral engagement with China, which rejected the tribunal, to peacefully resolve their disputes.
“It serves as a basis now for us to move forward in proceeding with a diplomatic tact in processes in arriving at a peaceful solution to the dispute,” he said. “We feel we have to give China room to rethink its position. We know the support of the international community has in a more profound sense pressured China to rethink its position and if it insists on not recognising a rules based system in the peaceful resolution of the dispute it will be isolated. They have more to lose.”
He said the Philippines was ready for bilateral talks as long as China did not engage in provocations, such as carrying out reclamation activities on the Scarborough Shoal. Confidence building measures would pave the way for talks, he said, such as Beijing allowing entry of fishermen from the Philippines to the Scarborough Shoal, which the tribunal ruled was the traditional fishing grounds for fishermen not only from China but also the Philippines and Vietnam.