Philippines' unofficial talks with China 'helped ease tensions'

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino III yesterday disclosed that Senator Antonio Trillanes IV's unofficial talks with the Chinese helped ease tensions between the Philippines and China over Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

But Aquino made it clear that going through the back channel was not the Palace's idea, but Trillanes' and that he approved it to achieve a peaceful resolution of the confrontation with China at Panatag Shoal (Scarbourough Shoal) in April.

That could be the last time an unofficial negotiator would speak for the government. The Palace said it had learned a lesson from the controversy that Trillanes had caused: the government should speak with one voice in dealing with China on the West Philippine Sea dispute.

Speaking to reporters after he opened the Aquino-Diokno Shrine and the Armed Forces of the Philippines' Centre for Human Rights Dialogue at Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija province, Aquino said Trillanes was in China at the height of the Panatag Shoal standoff.

Trillanes called him to say Chinese officials approached the senator about being a back-channel negotiator, Aquino said.

"So in the absence of any other channel existing beforehand, and as we wanted to resolve the Scarbourough Shoal standoff peacefully, we decided we would lose nothing from hearing them out," Aquino said.

Trillanes disclosed his unofficial role in the resolution of the standoff in a quarrel with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Wednesday over a bill that would divide Camarines Sur into two provinces.

Enrile read into the Senate records diplomatic notes that suggested Trillanes was working to advance China's interests and was undermining the Philippines' position in the dispute. Trillanes, according to the notes from Ambassador to China Sonia Brady, claimed credit for the withdrawal of up to 40 Chinese ships from Panatag Shoal.

Enrile demanded to know who Trillanes had talked with in his 15 meetings in Beijing and what he had agreed on with the Chinese.

President Aquino acknowledged Trillanes' contribution to the clearing of Panatag Shoal after Philippine vessels stepped back from the face-off with Chinese ships in mid-June.

"When Chinese vessels arrived at Scarbourough Shoal, we counted up to 18 ships, not including the fishing vessels, which would have added up to 30 vessels," Aquino said.

Effective strategy

"The number of Chinese vessels eventually dwindled, so maybe Trillanes' efforts to negotiate with Chinese officials should get some credit, as well as other efforts to prevent the tension from escalating," the president said.

Aquino said informal talks were effective in resolving any standoff.

"Look at the hostage crises," he said. "There are formal channels for negotiations. There are also informal channels for talks. These two separate negotiations work hand in hand to resolve the hostage crisis," he said.

Formal channels are the domain of diplomats, but the Palace needs informal channels through which it can relay its views quickly on the Panatag Shoal dispute, he said.

Aquino, however, did not disclose Trillanes' agreements with his Chinese contacts.

"I am actually reluctant to disclose more details about the backroom talks because these were informal and must not be made public," Aquino said.

Special envoy

But he said he had given Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II "a very simple instruction" when he tapped him to be the government's special representative to China.

"He has to make sure he will express our thoughts to the highest levels of leadership of the People's Republic of China so the Philippine position is clear to them," Aquino said.

"The position will detail where we come from and what our insights reveal about the situation," he said. "If they respond, that is good. If they do not, at least we have expressed what we really feel about the dispute."

Roxas is in China as a special Philippine envoy to the 9th China-Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Expo. He will meet Chinese officials, including Vice President Xi Jinping, expected to replace President Hu Jintao next year, for economic discussions. His talks with them are expected to touch on the West Philippine Sea dispute, the Palace said.

As for Trillanes, his role in the talks with China is uncertain.

Strategic Communication Secretary Ricky Carandang said on Friday that President Aquino would decide whether to keep Trillanes as backroom negotiator

"Whether or not his job is finished is up to the president to determine," Carandang said.

One voice

But the Palace had learned a very simple lesson from the controversy caused by Trillanes, Carandang said.

"The lesson we've learned is that it is important for the government, when we face the outside world, in this case China, to speak with one voice," Carandang said by phone.

"It's important that regardless of what we're doing, what approaches we're making, we speak with one voice," he said.

Carandang declined to comment when asked if he thought Trillanes' talks with Chinese officials in Beijing and Manila had done more harm than good, as Foreign Secretary del Rosario had said.

"Trillanes' job at the time was to find a way to ease tension by opening dialogue with Chinese officials, which he did," Carandang said.

"He was not there to recommend policy, or do anything more than to ease the tension," he said.

Standoff not over

Carandang declined to say whether he thought Trillanes indeed contributed to the easing of tensions in the West Philippine Sea.

The standoff at Panatag Shoal is not really over, with three Chinese vessels still there, according to Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.

Carandang confirmed that there were still Chinese vessels at the shoal. But he said the tension had been reduced.

"We're hopeful that we can continue to talk to the Chinese to resolve the issue," he said. "The issue of claims over Scarbourough Shoal remains. We're hoping to continue dialogue with them to help resolve the issue."

Back channels

Would the Palace resort to back channels again in dealing with China?

"If it makes sense and will be helpful, we will do that," Carandang said. "It would depend on a case to case basis."

COPYRIGHT: ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Phl, US defense chiefs to meet on sea dispute
    Phl, US defense chiefs to meet on sea dispute

    As US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Regan began its journey to Asian waters amid China’s power flexing in the region, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin would try to hear directly from his US counterpart how far America is willing to go to aid its long-time ally against China’s threatening moves in disputed waters. Gazmin flew to Hawaii last Monday to attend ceremonies for the turnover of leadership of the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) from Admiral Samuel Locklear to Admiral Harry …

  • Water in Angat Dam falls below critical level
    Water in Angat Dam falls below critical level

    The water level of Angat Dam in Bulacan yesterday fell below the 180-meter critical level for irrigation, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said. PAGASA said the dam’s water level further dropped to 179.98 meters as of 6 a.m. yesterday from 180.2 meters on Monday. The priority is the domestic consumption in Metro Manila, according to PAGASA. …

  • PCSO gets P3-B fund for medical aid
    PCSO gets P3-B fund for medical aid

    The Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) reported yesterday that an estimated P3-billion charity fund has been allocated by Congress to the agency to provide medical assistance to indigent patients and also give funds to other government offices including the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Crop Insurance Program. …

  • Image of Asia: Tearing down squatters' homes near Manila
    Image of Asia: Tearing down squatters' homes near Manila

    In this photo by Bullit Marquez, a demolition crew begins to tear down a squatters' community at suburban Caloocan city, north of Manila, Philippines. Population growth and the lack of economic opportunities in rural areas have driven millions of Filipinos into the squatters' colonies that dot the sprawling metropolitan area in and around Manila. Most of the land they occupy is privately owned, and clearing the dwellings often results in violence. The landowner had offered about $1,344 in …

  • SE Asia Stocks - Mostly down; Thai shares near 2-week low

    BANGKOK, May 26 (Reuters) - Most sharemarkets in Southeast Asia fell on Tuesday with the Thai index ending at a near two-week low and the Philippines touching a near four-week low after trade data while ... …

  • China breaks ground on lighthouse project in South China Sea

    China hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for the building of two lighthouses in the disputed South China Sea, state media said on Tuesday, a move that is likely to escalate tensions in a region already jittery about Beijing's maritime ambitions. China's Ministry of Transport hosted the ceremony for the construction of two multi-functional lighthouses on Huayang Reef and Chigua Reef on the disputed Spratly islands, state news agency Xinhua said, defying calls from the United States and the …

  • SE Asia Stocks - Thai, Philippine indexes weak after trade data

    BANGKOK, May 26 (Reuters) - Most Southeast Asian stock markets rose in line with the rest of Asia on Tuesday but the Thai index pared early gains after weak trade data in April, while the Philippine benchmark ... …

  • Is your home on top of a faultline?
    Is your home on top of a faultline?

    The Philippine Institute of Volcanoly and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) recently issued an updated and high-resolution "atlas" of the East Valley Fault and West Valley Fault, two major faultlines that run through sections of Metro Manila. Metro Manila may be due for a 7.2-magnitude earthquake within this lifetime, say experts from the institute, among them PHIVOLCS director Dr. Renato Solidum, Jr. According to records, the last major earthquake caused by the West Valley Fault took place 357 years …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options