US Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday said Washington wanted to avoid “confrontation” in the South China Sea, after an international tribunal rejected Beijing’s claims to most of the waters.
Kerry made the remarks after meeting with Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay in Manila where they discussed the Southeast Asian nation’s sweeping victory in the arbitration case against China.
America’s top diplomat said the United States wanted China and the Philippines to engage in talks and “confidence-building measures”.
“The decision itself is a binding decision but we’re not trying to create a confrontation. We are trying to create a solution mindful of the rights of people established under the law,” Kerry said.
A tribunal based in The Hague this month ruled that China’s claim to most of the strategic waterway was inconsistent with international law. The decision angered Beijing, which vowed to ignore the ruling.
But Kerry said the United States saw an “opportunity” for claimants to peacefully resolve the row.
“We hope to see a process that will narrow the geographic scope of the maritime disputes, set standards for behaviour in contested areas, lead to mutually acceptable solutions, perhaps even a series of confidence-building steps,” he said.
Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to the South China Sea, a vital waterway through which $5 trillion in annual trade passes. It is also believed to sit atop vast reserves of oil and gas.
Kerry, who arrived in Manila on Tuesday after attending a regional summit in Laos, met with new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte’s spokesman Ernesto Abella said the president told Kerry that any bilateral talks with China will “begin with the ruling”.
Abella also said Duterte explained his war on crime and drugs to Kerry, who pledged $32 million in US assistance for “training and services” for law enforcement.
Duterte has launched a bloody war on crime, urging law enforcers, communist rebels and even the public to kill criminals.
Since he took office on June 30, police have reported over 200 deaths while media tallies have said more than 300 have died, including suspected extrajudicial killings.
Before meeting Duterte, Kerry said: “Civil and human rights need to be protected even as we work to keep our societies safe.”
The meeting also tackled climate change days after Duterte said the Philippines was reviewing its “crazy” commitment to severely cut greenhouse-gas emissions under the Paris climate deal.
“Mr. Kerry was helpful in defining certain issues about the Paris pact and the president also responded appropriately when he said the Philippines will work just as long as everything is fair,” said Abella.
Duterte had said he approved of coal-fired power plants because the Philippines needed energy for industrialisation.