Manila: The Philippines “vigorously pushed” for the inclusion of an arbitration ruling in a joint statement among Southeast Asian countries but its failure to secure that was no diplomatic win for China, Manila’s foreign minister said on Wednesday.
The Philippines had not sought support from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) or the international community in its arbitration case against Beijing over the South China Sea, and did not want to press the issue to provoke China, Perfecto Yasay said.
Yasay was speaking after returning from a meeting of foreign ministers in Laos, during which ASEAN dropped a US-backed proposal to mention the landmark July 12 court ruling, which nullified Beijing’s claims to most of the South China Sea.
“I am just saying this to dispel the reports that have been said that China came out victorious in the ASEAN meeting because we precisely agreed to not mentioning the arbitral award,” Yasay told a news conference.
“But that (was) not the object of our meeting in ASEAN. The arbitral award is a matter between China and the Philippines.”
Yasay said the issuance of a joint communique was a victory for ASEAN, which was divided but showed it was united on the need to stick to international law and ensure peace.
The Philippines and Vietnam both wanted the ruling and a call to respect international maritime law to feature in the communique, but Cambodia rejected the wording on the ruling, diplomats said, backing instead China’s call for bilateral discussions.
Manila backed down to prevent the disagreement leading to the group failing to issue a joint statement after a meeting for only the second time in its 49-year history. Yasay said the Philippines did not want to gloat over the win, or rock the boat with ASEAN.
Yasay also said he wanted China to take a position so that dialogue could happen but did not say whether the Philippines would insist that the arbitration ruling be discussed.
Yasay met with US counterpart John Kerry on Wednesday in Manila, during which Yasay thanked him for Washington’s support on the court decision.
Kerry meets with Philippine’s President Rodrigo Duterte later on Wednesday and will discuss how to move ahead following the ruling, a US official said.
“I expect the conversation to include more exploration on the question of what a constructive, positive and peaceful and lawful path forward looks like,” the US official said, adding that the Philippines had behaved with restraint since the court ruling.