Kerry pledges neutral stance by the US
The United States’ top diplomat promised on Wednesday that Washington will not take sides in South China Sea disputes and called for China and the Philippines to exercise restraint and build confidence.
Experts said the milder tone being voiced by both Washington and Manila serves overall interests and is more conducive to regional stability, but Beijing should be cautious of future moves by the two countries and of possible tricks.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said in Manila that Washington is not picking sides on the competing sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.
He made the remarks at a joint news conference with Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay, ahead of his meeting with new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
Kerry, the highest-ranking US official to visit the Philippines since Duterte took office on June 20, emphasized the importance of turning the page on the disputes and initiating talks among claimants.
He said there had been a consistent focus by everybody, including the Chinese foreign minister, during this week’s ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Vientiane, Laos, on turning the page on past confrontations.
Yasay told a separate news conference earlier in the day, “The legal basis for us to move forward in making sure that our disputes with China will be resolved peacefully ... will now have to give way to the diplomatic processes that we have to pursue precisely for the peaceful resolution of these disputes.”
Kerry also urged China and the Philippines to follow this month’s arbitration ruling, which denies China’s longstanding historic rights in the South China Sea and was firmly opposed by Beijing.
“We have made clear that the decision of the arbitral tribunal convened under UNCLOS (the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) is legally binding and that we expect the parties to comply with their obligations,” Kerry said.
At the Sixth East Asia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the ruling “runs counter to the spirit of international rule of law as well as the principle and spirit of UNCLOS”.
It is “imbued with question marks and fallacies in terms of procedure, legal application, fact-finding and evidence-gathering”, Wang said.
Chen Qinghong, a researcher at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Research, welcomed US support for Beijing-Manila talks on maritime disputes but insisted that making the ruling a precondition for the talks would not be accepted.
“China welcomes US support for such talks, but should also be cautious of tricks such as making the arbitral ruling a precondition to carry on the talks,” Chen said.
The decision of the arbitral tribunal convened under UNCLOS is legally binding.”
Xinhua contributed to this story.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is greeted by his Philippine counterpart Perfecto Yasay before their meeting in Pasay City, south of Manila, on Wednesday.