Veteran journo doubts bilateral talks on S. China Sea dispute will work


MANILA – Bilateral talks may not be the best way to address issues in the South China Sea, said a veteran journalist who wrote a book on the landmark arbitral court ruling that granted the Philippines exclusive sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea.

Marites Vitug, author of “Rock Solid: How the Philippines won its maritime case against China,” said Thursday that she found out through official documents that Beijing has never really changed its stance on the issue for almost 20 years.

“Every time a diplomat talks to a Beijing counterpart, they would always say ‘we have indisputable sovereignty over South China Sea.’ It never changed. You’re like talking to a wall,” she told ANC, baring details from official cables between the two countries.

Vitug said the government, under then-President Benigno Aquino III, had no other move left at that time but to bring the South China Sea dispute to the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal, a case the Philippine won in 2016, when President Rodrigo Duterte took office.

But under the Duterte administration, the Philippines and China have had warmer ties with continuing talks through a bilateral consultation mechanism, where potential joint exploration in the disputed waterway is also being discussed.

“I think bilateral talks would not work when it comes to the South China Sea issue. But in all other areas — trade, investment, and issues not related to this issue, I think it’s perfectly normal. It’s just when it comes to this contentious issue, it’s very difficult to deal with China because that’s what they want,” Vitug said.