U.S. Seeks to Steer South China Sea Dispute Into Calmer Waters
MANILA—China and the Philippines must settle their territorial
dispute over the South China Sea through diplomacy, not "coercion
or a threat of force," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said
Mr. Kerry said all claimants to the disputed waters and islands
in the South China Sea must recognize this month's ruling by a
United Nations-backed arbitration panel—which rejected China's
sweeping maritime claim, enraging Beijing—"is legally binding and
that we expect the parties to comply with their obligations under
He also urged the claimant countries to "exercise restraint and
to work to reduce tension" in the South China Sea. "We hope to see
a real opportunity for claimants to work together constructively,
peacefully and ultimately resolve their difference consistent with
international law," he said. "We hope to see a process that will
narrow the geographic scope of the maritime dispute, set standard
In a case brought by the Philippines, a tribunal of the
Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on July 12 concluded
China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea had no legal
basis. The Philippines and four other Southeast Asian governments
also claim territorial or usage rights in the strategic waters,
which are home to rich fisheries and oil-and-gas reserves, and
carry some $5 trillion in trade each year.
China didn't take part in the tribunal, which it said had no
jurisdiction on the case, and Chinese officials immediately
reiterated that Beijing wouldn't comply with the ruling.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, who spoke
at Wednesday's briefing in Manila alongside Mr. Kerry, said the
Philippines is ready to negotiate with China, and has named former
president Fidel Ramos, a respected statesman in Asia, as special
envoy to settle the sea dispute.
"We would hope this would be pursued as soon as possible," said
Mr. Yasay, whose responses to the tribunal's verdict have so far
been kept low-key to avoid antagonizing China. "We are hoping that
China will come up with a position that will allow these bilateral
talks to proceed."
Mr. Yasay said negotiations with China must be undertaken
"within the ambit of international law and the 1982 UNCLOS,"
referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
that underpins the tribunal's ruling.
Mr. Kerry said that while the U.S. is urging negotiations, it
understands that "our friend and ally, the Philippines, can only do
so on terms that are acceptable to the government of the
Recently elected Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte also met
with Mr. Kerry later Wednesday, but presidential spokesman Ernesto
Abella said the pair didn't strike any deals on how to handle the
South China Sea issue.
"There were no agreements regarding that, except that the
president did mention that whatever talks we will engage in will
begin with the ruling. That will be the foundation, " Mr. Abella
said. He said that despite the polar views of the Philippines and
China on the ruling, it couldn't be considered a "stalemate" and
that "the conversation will continue."
In the wake of the tribunal ruling, fears of militarization in
the area grew as China announced long-range bomber flights to
distant islands and new naval drills, while the U.S. said it would
continue sailing and flying through the region. However, recent
developments suggest China and the U.S. are looking to reduce
tensions in the region.
Mr. Kerry traveled to Manila from Laos, where he attended a
meeting of foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of
Southeast Asian Nations and other countries, including China.
Divisions over China's territorial claims and activities dominated
discussions, but the group did manage to form a united position,
stressing the importance of international law in resolving
In a meeting Monday with China, Asean agreed to a statement that
both parties would further work out a code of conduct in the
waters—a discussion that has languished for more than a
decade—suggesting a softening of China's initial reaction to the
ruling. Diplomats who attended the gathering in Laos also noted
China has dropped mentions of its "nine-dash line" territorial
demarcation of the South China Sea in recent statements.
On Wednesday, Mr. Duterte will convene the Philippines' National
Security Council, which includes past leaders of the country, to
provide guidelines for Mr. Ramos during any negotiations.
Write to Cris Larano at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
July 27, 2016 04:05 ET (08:05 GMT)
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