By Ian Nicolas P. Cigaral, Reporter

Yasay remarks on maritime dispute
‘regrettable’: Chinese Foreign Ministry

Posted on February 25, 2017

THE Chinese government on Thursday singled out the “baffling” and “regrettable” statements of Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto R. Yasay, Jr., who raised the concern among Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ministers regarding Beijing’s militarization on the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto R. Yasay, Jr.
In a press briefing on Thursday, Feb. 23, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang qualified Mr. Yasay’s remarks as being “against” the improving ties between China and the Philippines -- which soured during the previous administration’s assertion of Manila’s claims in the South China Sea.

“As we have noted, Mr. Yasay’s recent remarks apparently deviate from the consensus of the two leaders, go against the current trend of the sound and rapid development of China-Philippine relations, disagree with the overall stable situation of the South China Sea, and run counter to the shared desire of regional countries to maintain peace and stability of the South China Sea and promote regional cooperation,” went Mr. Geng’s remarks as posted on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Web site.

“We hope that Mr. Yasay can follow the consensus reached by the two leaders and the shared desire of regional countries, exercise prudence, and make concrete efforts to uphold China-Philippines relations and regional peace and stability,” he added.

Sought for comment, Mr. Yasay in a text message on Friday maintained that “some ASEAN countries have expressed concern [on China’s militarization in the South China Sea] regardless of the bilateral commitments between the Philippines and China.”

Mr. Geng’s statements came on the heels of reports that China’s commerce minister decided at the last minute to cancel an official trip to the Philippines on Thursday to sign about 40 joint projects worth billions of dollars.

But Mr. Geng in the same briefing explained that the canceled visit was due to “scheduling reasons.”

“The China-Philippines Joint Commission on Economic and Trade Cooperation has decided to postpone its meeting for several days. The two sides are still working on relevant preparations,” he said.

For his part, Mr. Duterte defended Mr. Yasay from Beijing’s criticisms, saying there is a “misunderstanding” between the two countries.

The President assured he will not “deviate” from his commitment to improve Manila’s ties with and Beijing.

“The problem is I think Secretary Yasay was misunderstood by the Chinese government but let me assure China that we will talk as friends,” Mr. Duterte said in a televised speech yesterday in Davao City.

“We cannot go to war because we cannot afford it and that as much as possible, the bilateral relations between the two countries would be enhanced and improved and trade and commerce between the two countries [would] greatly improve.”