Manila: The Philippines asked Beijing today to respect an international tribunal’s ruling that rejected Chinese claims to most of the South China Sea, escalating a row that has raised the prospect of conflict. China reacted furiously to the verdict by a UN-back tribunal on Tuesday, insisting it will ignore the decision while warning its rivals too much pressure on the issue could turn the resource-rich and strategically vital waterway into a “cradle of war”.
The Philippines, which launched the legal challenge, had initially refrained from asking China to abide by the ruling. This followed President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive to achieve a “soft landing” with the Philippines’ much more powerful Asian neighbour.
But Manila hardened its stance today with a statement detailing Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay’s priorities when he attends an Asia-Europe summit, known as ASEM, in Mongolia this week along with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
“Secretary Yasay will discuss within the context of ASEM’s agenda the Philippines’ peaceful and rules-based approach on the South China Sea and the need for parties to respect the recent decision,” the foreign affairs department said in a statement.
Even just raising the issue at the two-day summit starting tomorrow will anger China, which has long bridled at Philippine efforts to have the dispute discussed at multilateral events.
Chinese assistant foreign minister Kong Xuanyou insisted on Monday the ASEM summit was “not an appropriate venue” to discuss the South China Sea. But China appears to be in the minority – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also said today as he left for Mongolia that he wanted to discuss the South China Sea at the summit.