October 22, 2016 1:37 am JST

Beijing, Manila to resolve maritime disputes via direct dialogue

OKI NAGAI, Nikkei staff writer

BEIJING -- China and the Philippines will settle their disputes in the South China Sea through direct negotiations instead of relying on a Hague ruling from July, according to a joint statement issued a day after Chinese President Xi Jinping and Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte met here.

Both sides reaffirm the importance of settling their territorial and jurisdictional disputes in the South China Sea "by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned," the statement released Friday said.

The document also touched on the importance of the freedom of navigation and of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. But it made no mention of the July ruling by an international arbitration tribunal at The Hague rejecting China's sweeping claims in the South China Sea -- a strong reflection of Beijing's desire to curb Japanese and U.S. intervention on the issue and to dismiss the ruling.

China and the Philippines also agreed "to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities in the South China Sea that would complicate or escalate disputes," and announced plans to create a bilateral consultation mechanism. But it is unclear how far Beijing is willing to scale back its reclamation and military activities in the waters, which it considers a core national interest.

The countries also agreed that "bilateral defense and military cooperation are important components of bilateral relations," calling for greater exchanges in such areas as humanitarian assistance and disaster alleviation.

Philippine Trade Minister Ramon Lopez, who accompanied Duterte to China, said Friday that the two sides signed economic agreements worth a total of $24 billion. This includes plans to build a new Chinese consulate in Duterte's hometown of Davao and to establish new plane routes between China and the Philippines, clear attempts by China to court the Philippine leader.

Duterte concluded his four-day trip to China on Friday. He will visit Japan starting Saturday for the first time since taking office in June and meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

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