Biden-led US to recognize PH arbitral win in South China Sea row, says envoy

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 21) — The Philippines' arbitral victory in the West Philippine Sea dispute will continue to be recognized by the Biden administration in line with the strengthened ties between the two states, the country's envoy maintained.

Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel "Babe" Romualdez expressed confidence on Thursday that relations between Manila and Washington will still run smoothly after Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.

READ: Biden arrives at the White House and begins dismantling Trump's legacy 

"We're confident that this relationship is going to continue and we've had a good start," Romualdez told CNN Philippines' New Day.

"First and foremost is the policy on the West Philippine Sea for instance. The policy shifted during the time of President Trump, they recognized our arbitral award will be continued by the Biden administration," he added.

In 2016, an international tribunal in The Hague invalidated Beijing’s sweeping territorial stakes in the South China Sea and recognized Manila’s sovereign rights in areas within its exclusive economic zone which China claims.

Former US President Donald Trump had taken a sledgehammer approach to China. He aggressively sanctioned China as well as companies from the mainland for incursions in the South China Sea, where Beijing has constructed and fortified artificial islands.

For Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Cuisia, Biden's bipartisan support for countries involved in the maritime dispute will benefit all parties this time.

"I think President Biden will have bipartisan support in terms of ensuring that not just China but other countries would respect the international law, particularly UNCLOS, which covers both South China Sea and the East China Sea," he told CNN Philippines' The Final Word.

The UNCLOS is an international treaty established to define coastal and maritime boundaries and regulate seabed exploration outside territorial claims. The arbitral tribunal that ruled on the Philippines' case against China was created under a provision of UNCLOS, with the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague serving as registry.

Duterte 'looking forward' to working with Biden

Meanwhile, Romualdez bared that Duterte had sent a congratulatory letter to Biden about a week prior to his inauguration, indicating that he was "looking forward" to forging good relations with the latter.

"Actually, about a week or less than a week after President Biden was elected, President Duterte has already sent a congratulatory letter in which he says he's looking forward to continuing the relationship between the Philippines and the United States," he said.

Malacañang earlier said it is not expecting major changes in its bilateral relations with the US even under Biden's leadership, and likewise promised to "work closely" with the new US President.

READ: PH looks forward to 'close and friendly' ties with Biden administration 

"We have 4.5 million Filipino-Americans and a lot of students and workers who are also here in the United States, we have visitors back and forth. We have over 300,000 Americans living in the Philippines," Romualdez noted. "So, you know, those strong ties is something that you can't, the old saying, you can't buy that anywhere. It's there, it's very strong."