China’s activities in the South China Sea constitute a “major challenge” for the Philippines but the relation between the Philippines and China is not defined exclusively by the difficulties posed by China’s ambition in the South China Sea, said Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines Enrique A. Manalo. Speaking at the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) where he delivered the 42nd Annual Sapru House Lecture on “Shared Values and Common Outlook: The Journey of Philippines-India Cooperation”, Mr Manalo urged the ASEAN and other stakeholders to frame the code of conduct for the South China Sea.
“The differences we have with China are not the sum total of our relationship with China. We have a quite a vast and significant bilateral relationship with China in other areas like in the economic sphere, culture etc,” said Mr Manalo while interacting with the audience at the Sapru House. He pointed out that most of the activities by the maritime units and “land reclamation” by China are taking place inside the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines in the South China Sea. He described these activities as a “major challenge”. The Philippines said Mr Manalo does not recognise the “so called nine dash line” in the South China Sea that Beijing uses to claim most of the crucial water body.
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Manila had approached an international tribunal at The Hague challenging China’s position over the South China Sea. In a ruling delivered in 2016, the tribunal had supported the Philippines’ position over the South China Sea that China had rejected. But Mr Manalo said here on Wednesday that his country considers the verdict to be binding in international law that will help freedom of navigation in the South China Sea saying, “We successfully won the case in 2016. Unfortunately China does not recognise the award. We and many countries across the world consider the arbitral award as final and binding.” He said both the ASEAN and China are however committed to finalise the “code of conduct” for the South China Sea.
Mr Manalo, who is renowned for his multilateral work in the field of international migration arrived here on Tuesday for a three day visit. He will participate with External Affairs Minister Dr. S Jaishankar in the 5th India-Philippines Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC). “During his meeting, both sides will review the entire gamut of bilateral relations including political defence, security, maritime cooperation, trade and investment, health, tourism, agriculture, financial technology and will also discuss regional and multilateral issues of mutual interest,” said the Ministry of External Affairs in a statement.
Elaborating on the defence element of the bilateral ties, Mr Manalo said, “We certainly hope to develop a very robust defence arrangements with India. We already have entered some potential deals. Our defence officials have also been in regular contacts on this,” said Mr Manalo described defence ties between the two countries as a “brighter area” of India-Philippines relationship.