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Jan 11, 6:42 AM EST

Philippines won't raise legal victory vs. China at ASEAN



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MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- The Philippines won't raise its recent arbitration victory against Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea during Asian summit talks that it will host this year, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said Wednesday.

Yasay said pressing last year's ruling at the annual meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations "is just simply counter-productive."

The Philippines intends to raise the ruling, which invalidated China's historic claims under a 1982 U.N. treaty, in bilateral talks with Beijing in the future, Yasay said, stressing that the arbitration decision is final and won't be changed by discussions at international conferences.

"We are not going to raise this issue ... because there is really no useful benefit," Yasay said at a news conference. "This is a matter that we will be raising with China at some future time in bilateral talks and to do and involve others in the discussion of this decision is just simply counter-productive for our purposes."

"Now if any country would like to pursue their respective claims against China with respect to a disputed territory in the South China Sea, they can do so and perhaps use the decision of the arbitral tribunal as a precedent-setting case in pursuing the matter," he said.

The Philippines was previously one of the most vocal critics of China at the annual ASEAN meetings as Beijing asserted its vast territorial claims in the South China Sea.

After China took control of disputed Scarborough Shoal in 2012 and blocked Filipinos from the rich fishing area, then President Benigno Aquino III brought his country's territorial disputes with Beijing to international arbitration. China ignored the Philippine case and refused to recognize the outcome, which was heavily in favor of the Philippines.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who succeeded Aquino in June, has taken dramatic steps to mend strained relations with China. He has also taken an antagonistic stance against the administration of outgoing President Barack Obama after the U.S. leader criticized his deadly crackdown on illegal drugs.

As host of the ASEAN meetings this year, the Philippines is in a position to influence their focus and the joint communiques issued at the end of the conferences. China, the U.S. and Russia and other Western and Asian nations will join expanded meetings later in the year.

Yasay said the Philippines will push for the faster completion of a long-delayed "code of conduct" between China and ASEAN to discourage aggressive actions that could ratchet up tensions in the South China Sea, a busy waterway for world trade.

The Philippines wants the framework of the nonaggression pact to be completed within the first half of this year, Yasay said. The prospects for the signing of a legally binding regional code remain unclear.

Philippine diplomats have said negotiations over the code have been stalled in the past by China while it covertly turned disputed reefs into artificial islands which can now be used by Beijing to better defend its territorial claims.

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