The Philippines will focus on its own interests in the South China Sea (SCS) after China rejected a Philippine government appeal that it comply with an arbitral ruling that invalidated its claim to nearly all of the disputed waterway, a Palace official said Tuesday.
READ: US brands Beijing's South China Sea claims illegal
In a televised press briefing, Palace spokesperson Harry Roque said the Philippines will “agree to disagree” with China’s position on the 2016 arbitral ruling in favor of Manila.
“We will set aside other things that we do not agree on, which includes this territorial dispute,” he said, adding, “we will focus for our own interest.”
“First of all, we really do not agree with China about this arbitral award. But let’s say we will agree to disagree,” Roque said.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila said Tuesday the 2016 arbitral award by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in favor of the Philippines over the disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea was "illegal and invalid."
"China's position is consistent, clear and firm. The South China Sea arbitration and its so-called award are illegal and invalid,” the embassy said in a statement, which was released on the fourth anniversary of the PCA ruling.
“China does not accept or participate in the arbitration, nor does it accept or recognize the so-called award."
Despite the disagreement, Roque said, the country’s trade and economic relations with China will continue.
In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled that the Philippines has exclusive sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea (in the South China Sea), thereby setting aside China’s “nine-dash line” territorial claim, but China has refused to recognize the ruling.
But Roque said the disagreement does not sum up the country’s relations with China.
“We will proceed with what we can continue with our friendship with China, like those concerning the economy and trade,” he said.
But China insisted that its "sovereignty and maritime rights" in the area would not be affected by the PCA ruling.
READ: China says Pompeo's South China Sea illegal claim 'unjustified'
"China firmly opposes and will never accept any claim or action based on aforesaid award. It has to be highlighted that China and the Philippines have already reached consensus on properly handling the so-called arbitration case, which has laid down solid ground for the turning-around of bilateral relations," the embassy said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said the arbitral ruling favoring Manila was “non-negotiable.”
“The Tribunal authoritatively ruled that China’s claim of historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’ had no basis in law,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said in a statement.
He said the Philippines, as a law-abiding, peace-loving and responsible member of the international community, was reaffirming its adherence to the award and its enforcement without any possibility of compromise or change.
During his meeting with Xi Jinping, Duterte insisted that the ruling was final, binding, and not subject to appeal, but the Chinese leader was unmoved and reiterated China's decision to ignore it.
Xi had urged the two sides to "set aside disputes, eliminate external interference, and concentrate on conducting cooperation, making pragmatic efforts and seeking development.”
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, however, said the government must actively assert its sovereign authority over its territorial resources and should never waver in its defense of its maritime possessions.
Sotto echoed the stand of US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo over China’s aggressive claims in the South China Sea.
READ: Pompeo says Beijing claims in South China Sea 'unlawful'
“We should never cower in fear from the harassment and political intimidation that foreign governments impose on us,” he said.
“We should stand firm and prove that we as a nation remains united in our common desire to claim and protect our sovereign jurisdiction,” he added.
He noted that what is unlawful can never be made lawful by the whims and caprices of a foreign power which treats the entire South China Sea as its territory.
But China has repeatedly rejected the arbitral ruling, with no less than Chinese President Xi Jinping telling President Rodrigo Duterte about its position during their bilateral meeting in Beijing last year.
The PCA ruling did not stop China from pursuing its militarization of the South China Sea, which prompted Foreign Affairs to file in April diplomatic protests against China.
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