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Philippines must heal South China Sea rift: Chinese FM

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the Philippines’ case against China at an arbitration tribunal over rival claims in the South China Sea had strained relations and that it was up to the Philippines to heal the rift.

Beijing’s claim to almost the entire South China Sea is shown on Chinese maps with a nine-dash line that stretches deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia. Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also claim parts of the waterway.

The arbitration case against China in the Hague “is a knot that has impeded the improvement and development of Sino-Philippine relations”, a statement on the Foreign Ministry’s website cited Wang as saying in Manila.

“We do not want this knot to become tighter and tighter, so that it even becomes a dead knot,” Wang told reporters. “As for how to loosen or open the knot, (we’ll) have to look at the Philippines.”

The nine-dash line also includes parts of the Indonesian-held Natuna islands and Jakarta, which has kept a low profile in the dispute, could take China to the “International Criminal Court” if Beijing’s claim was not resolved through dialogue, Indonesia’s security chief, Luhut Panjaitan, told reporters on Wednesday.

Although he specified the International Criminal Court, which deals with war crimes, it would appear he meant an international tribunal such as the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

For years, China has insisted that disputes with rival claimants be handled bilaterally.

In a legal setback for Beijing, the arbitration court ruled last month that it had jurisdiction to hear some territorial claims the Philippines had filed against China.

The Philippines has welcomed the decision and its Foreign Affairs Department said on Wednesday it would pursue the case “to its logical conclusion”.

“China’s nine-dash line claim is expansive, excessive and has no basis under international law,” said foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose. “If left unchallenged, we could lose about 80 percent of our EEZ (exclusive economic zone).”

China has boycotted the legal proceedings and rejects the court’s authority in the case.

Manila filed the case in 2013 to seek a ruling on its right to exploit waters in its 200-nautical mile EEZ as allowed under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“The person who caused the problem should solve it,” Wang said. “We hope that the Philippines can make a more sensible choice.”

Next week, Manila hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, an event at which the United States says the South China Sea will likely come up on the sidelines.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China hoped “sensitive political topics” would not be discussed there.

“We hope all sides can uphold the economic trade essence of the APEC forum,” he told reporters in Beijing. Reuters

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