Republic of the Philippines

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Noy raises sea row at APEC

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BEIJING – In a gathering of Asia-Pacific leaders where the economy is the main agenda, President Aquino raised the West Philippine Sea issue, particularly efforts by his administration to resolve territorial disputes through international arbitration.

In a press briefing at the Philippine embassy here yesterday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the maritime row was “touched broadly” in all of the five bilateral meetings.

The President is in the Chinese capital for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

“For example, in the case of Vietnam, there was common agreement that we would continue to pursue dispute settlement on the basis of peaceful means in accordance with the rule of law using UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea),” Del Rosario told members of the Philippine media.

Aquino also discussed the issue with leaders of Canada, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Thailand.

China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims over the West Philippine Sea and South China. But host country China has been flexing its military muscle to assert its claim over almost the entire South China Sea and West Philippine Sea.

With Canada, Del Rosario said there were also “broad discussions on the application of international law in resolving regional disputes.”

Aquino met with Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang Sunday night and with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and Thai Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha yesterday.

Del Rosario said the Philippines and Vietnam reaffirmed their friendship and agreed to convene a joint committee in December to start discussions on a roadmap towards a strategic partnership on improving trade, investment and people-to-people exchanges.

“I think that it (strategic partnership) is mostly driven by our close ties with them, and we actually have entered into a strong commitment to be able to bring our relations closer, and the way to do this is through some form of a comprehensive strategic partnership,” Del Rosario said. “We still have to craft exactly what we mean by that. It’s possible that we need to integrate our thoughts in terms of what do we mean by ‘comprehensive strategic partnership.’ But I think there’s enough of a history in terms of our relations and the fact that we have very close ties to get us to where we want to go,” he said.

Japan, China deal OK

Del Rosario welcomed the agreement between China and Japan to develop mechanisms to gradually resume talks, which had been stalled for at least two and a half years, due to their maritime spat over the Senkaku Islands.

“We viewed that as a positive development if... it contributes to peace, security and stability in the region,” Del Rosario said.

The foreign affairs chief said the Philippines had always taken the position that the West Philippine Sea dispute should not be the sum total of relations between Manila and Beijing.

“As you know, our position has always been that China is a friend and a neighbor, and we are at all times working for a constructive relationship with them – one that is mutually beneficial,” he said.

He said Aquino and then Chinese President Hu Jintao agreed in 2011 that bilateral relations involved many facets and that “contentious issues” could be treated “separately.”

Aquino went on a state visit to China in 2011 upon the invitation of Hu but had to cancel a visit to a trade expo in Nanning last year after reportedly being “disinvited.”

“And so, we have been working to have this agreement honored because we are, of course, very interested in being able to again have a close relationship with China, whom we consider as a valuable friend,” Del Rosario said.

No hostile move

He also reiterated that arbitration was not a hostile move and was intended precisely to maintain peace.

“We have had questions about our motives for arbitration. We went into arbitration after we had exerted every possible reasonable means to arrive at a peaceful settlement of the dispute,” Del Rosario said.

“But this was our last resort and arbitration is, for us, a means for clarifying entitlements for all nations involved in this dispute so that this can be used as a way to move forward in terms of settlement of these disputes that we speak of,” he pointed out.

“We precisely selected arbitration because, as was defined by the United Nations, it is not an unfriendly act. It is, as a matter of fact, one that we are utilizing to be able to preserve a valuable friendship,” he added.

Asked if Aquino and Chinese President Xi Jinping would have a chance to meet, Del Rosario could only say “there’s a possibility.”

He said he had congratulated China for the hosting of the APEC, which had been successful so far.

Canada visit

Del Rosario also said President Aquino received an invitation from Canada’s Harper to visit the North American nation next year.

Del Rosario said Harper had also inquired about the progress of rehabilitation in areas devastated by Super Typhoon Yolanda last year.

He said Aquino and Harper talked about the inclusion of the Philippines among Canada’s priority development partners. “They have this development program and the Philippines was selected to be one of those countries that would enjoy this thrust,” Del Rosario said.

The foreign affairs chief said the President thanked Canada for its “overwhelming support” for Yolanda victims.

Del Rosario said Harper was quite pleased with the developments reported to him.

“There was also a benefit given to the Philippines in terms of a trade priority... which focuses on providing a two-way trade and market access to the Philippines,” Del Rosario said.

He also revealed discussions on the Islamic State but did not give details.

Del Rosario said Aquino and Harper both acknowledged the global threat posed by IS.

“And this is already myself speaking – that we cannot ignore the crimes and atrocities and the fact that... we must take a position against those who perpetrate crimes against humanity,” Del Rosario said.

Del Rosario said they thanked Canada for its steady assistance to the Philippines’ chairmanship in 2015.

Del Rosario also said the Philippines and Papua New Guinea were moving for improved trade and investment cooperation.

“We want to advance cooperation in health services. It appears that the Philippines is emerging as a favored destination for medical tourism. We are being asked to advance our cooperation in education, specifically technical and vocational programs,” Del Rosario said.

“It seems that many Papua New Guinea nationals are now studying in the Philippines. And, of course, there was a discussion on the deepening of our cooperation in agriculture,” he added.

“For example, IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) explores finding suitable rice species for Papua New Guinea,” he added.

Papua New Guinea will chair APEC in 2018 and its leader sought the Philippines’ support for the tiny nation’s hosting as “we seek their cooperation for our chairmanship in 2015.”

Thankful to Thais, NZ

The Philippines, Del Rosario said, also expressed gratitude to Thailand for the latter’s assistance to Yolanda victims.

He said Manila eagerly awaits the forthcoming visit of the prime minister and the foreign minister, separately.

“We are desirous of promoting greater cooperation in trade and investment with greater focus on the support for our SMEs (small and medium enterprises) and our farmers,” he said.

“We exchanged views on best practices on instituting government reforms. And the President was briefed on the plans of the new Thai government in terms of their effort to return to democracy,” he added.

Del Rosario also said Aquino and New Zealand’s Key discussed improved air links between the two countries.

“We commended the pace of relations with New Zealand, particularly the expansion of air links between the Philippines and that country,” Del Rosario said.

By Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star)


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