PH envoy to China: Not raising arbitral ruling is gov't strategy

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President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 13) — President Rodrigo Duterte's decision not to raise the arbitral ruling in his upcoming visit to China does not mean the government is giving up its claims to the South China Sea, Philippine ambassador to China Chito Sta. Romana said.

It is all part of the President's dual-track strategy, Sta. Romana told reporters in Beijing on Saturday.

"The problem is, if you put the disputes in the front and center of bilateral relations – that you have to resolve these first before you can have trade, before you can have cultural links, and so on – the result is the relations will be frozen... Because the disputes cannot be resolved overnight," Sta. Romana said.

"The basic approach of the Duterte administration has been to put it on separate tracks. Take the dispute from the front and center, put it on a separate track and there you can discuss it, you deal with it one by one," he added.

This way, other possible areas of cooperation with China will not be compromised and tensions will not escalate, Sta. Romana said.

China has refused to acknowledge the July 2016 arbitral ruling in favor of the Philippines against China's claim to almost the entire South China Sea.

"What we have won legally, we will not abandon or give up. Nor do we lose hope," Sta. Romana said.

Read: What you need to know about the Arbitral Tribunal's ruling

Duterte heads to Beijing on May 14 to 15 to participate in the Belt and Road Forum (BRF) for International Cooperation.

Bilateral talks next week

Meanwhile, bilateral talks on the maritime row are expected next week, after Duterte's visit, Sta. Romana said.

These will then be done twice yearly, "a chance to exchange views on the South China Sea issue," he added.

The Foreign Affairs Department earlier said Philippine officials will not be bringing up the arbitral ruling during the bilateral talks.

Related: PH, China to start maritime talks in May

Sta. Romana called for support for the President rather than criticizing what others call Duterte's "defeatist stance" on the South China Sea.

Duterte, as chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, recently softened ASEAN's stance on the South China Sea. Sources told CNN Philippines the Chinese embassy requested the change.

But Duterte has promised to bring the arbitral ruling up with China during his term.

PH-China relations

The country's friendlier approach to China has resulted in gains for the Philippine economy, Sta. Romana said. 

"If you go around Beijing right now, the Chinese are eating Philippine bananas again, and Philippine pineapples," Sta. Romana said. This boost in trade has benefited our local farmers, he added.

China – already one of the Philippines' biggest trade partners – is set to be the Philippines' top trading partner this 2017, Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez earlier said.

In the tourism sector, Sta. Romana said the country is expecting "Chinese tourist arrivals to breach the 1 million mark this year."  

The two countries signed economic deals during Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang's four-day visit to the country last March.

Chinese and Philippine officials also tackled possible preliminary studies for the Davao Expressway, and bridges connecting Panay, Guimaras, and Negros islands.

Feasibility studies are also being done for more infrastructure projects in 2018, Sta. Romana said.