China hopes PH will ‘implement consensus’ to shelve arbitral ruling

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 25) — Beijing continues to reject Manila’s arbitration win in the South China Sea dispute and hopes the Philippine government will stick to the consensus of setting aside differences, a Chinese ambassador said Friday.

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian made the statement in response to President Rodrigo Duterte’s widely praised speech at the United Nations General Assembly where he said that the arbitral ruling – which recognized the Philippines’ sovereign rights to areas within its exclusive economic zone that China contests – is now part of international law and cannot be diluted, diminished, or abandoned.

“We firmly reject attempts to undermine it,” Duterte said.

READ: Duterte lauded for sea row stance, urged to turn PH arbitral victory into reality

In 2016, an international tribunal in The Hague ruled that there was no legal basis for Beijing's historic "nine-dash line" claim over most of the South China Sea. It said China violated the Philippines' rights to some areas by interfering in fishing and petroleum exploration and building artificial islands there.

China has never recognized the landmark decision.

“China’s position on the so-called arbitral ruling has been very clear: We do not accept and we do not recognize this so-called ruling,” Huang said in a forum hosted by the Association for Philippines-China Understanding on Friday.

“As it has been agreed by our two presidents… We should close the old chapter and shelve differences,” he added.

Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping “agreed to disagree” on the ruling to pursue dialogue and cooperation. Duterte himself announced in September 2019 that the Philippines will set aside the arbitral ruling to make way for the planned joint oil and gas exploration with China in disputed areas.

“We hope that both sides will implement the consensus between our two leaders... to maintain the sum momentum of cooperation between our two countries,” Huang said.

In a media briefing on Thursday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made it clear that although Duterte raised the arbitral decision before the 193-member United Nations, the ruling will remain on the shelf consistent with government policy.

“The President has been consistent. We will move on matters that we could move forward on, including trade and investments, and we will for the time being, set this aside because I don’t think the resolution of the territorial dispute is forthcoming in our lifetime,” Roque said.

READ: Duterte gov’t still setting aside arbitral ruling, Palace says

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario appealed to the Duterte administration to get the support of more countries so the ruling will be raised more emphatically in next year’s UNGA.

The Palace maintained the Philippines stands to lose to China if the issue is put to a vote in the United Nations. This has been the stance of the Duterte administration despite the latest move of major European powers to back the country's arbitration win.