United States Secretary of State John Kerry and Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario today in Malaysia discussed territorial tensions between the Philippines and China in West Philippine Sea, a Philippine official said. The two Secretaries met at the sidelines of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers meeting with ASEAN’s dialogue partners.
US, Philippine’s closest ally, has said it has an interest in West Philippine issue, citing the need for unimpeded access to international shipping lanes and overflight routes, while maintaining it is not taking sides in the dispute involving not only the Philippines and China but three other ASEAN members and Taiwan as well.
Sharing Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s recent assurances to him that Beijing is willing to negotiate for the resolution of the dispute, Kerry told his Philippine counterpart that such a pronouncement needs to be tested to determine if China is indeed serious about it, Philippine Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said.
For his part, del Rosario briefed Kerry on the progress of a case that the Philippines has filed against China at a U.N. arbitration tribunal over their rival claims in West Philippine Sea. Jose said Kerry encouraged the Philippines to proceed with the arbitration, a process that China has refused to participate in.
Jose said that del Rosario admitted to Kerry the difficulty in getting other ASEAN members to take Manila’s position in addressing the territorial dispute.
The 30-minute conversation also touched on the status of the U.S.-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which was signed last year to allow U.S. forces greater access to Philippine military bases, but remains unimplemented after it was questioned before the Philippine Supreme Court.
Responding to a question from Kerry, del Rosario also gave a short briefing on the improving Philippine economy and the country’s presidential election next year.