MANILA, Philippines — The new Philippine foreign secretary made sensitive remarks Thursday about territorial disputes in the South China Sea that were broadcast live by the state-run TV network before it abruptly cut away from its coverage of the new president’s first Cabinet meeting.
Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay’s remarks during the meeting touched on how the government should respond to a much-anticipated international arbitration ruling on July 12.
The Philippines brought its long-simmering disputes with China in the South China Sea to international arbitration in January 2013 after Beijing took control of disputed Scarborough Shoal following a standoff.
After Rodrigo Duterte was sworn in as president Thursday, he called his first Cabinet meeting, where he expressed the need for the Philippines to fully study the impact of the ruling, whether favorable or not.
Yasay spoke about an apparent wish by some foreign governments for Manila to issue a stronger statement about the dispute if the tribunal rules favorably. “I am adverse to that idea,” he told Duterte and fellow Cabinet members, echoing the president’s remarks on the need for the government to further study the ruling’s repercussions.
“There are lots of nuances that we do not know as yet,” Yasay said.
“But the bottom-line question is what will happen if the decision is in our favor,” Yasay said, adding that China could potentially “dig in and put us to a test.” If that happens, he said, “there is no point for us to yell.”
Journalists covering the president asked his spokesman why the delicate discussion was conducted on nationwide television, and if it was a mistake, but there was no immediate government explanation.