The White House in a press briefing on Tuesday, as posted on its YouTube page, said among Mr. Obama’s weekend activities at the G20 Summit in China and the ASEAN meeting in Laos is bilateral discussions with the Philippines, being “a party to the recent arbitral ruling in the South China Sea.”
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, who was among those who conducted the briefing, was referring to the Hague ruling last July in the Philippines’ favor and against China’s maritime claims on the South China Sea. The ruling, the result of a case initiated by the Philippines three years ago, has been treated with caution by Mr. Duterte’s nine-week-old administration.
His foreign affairs secretary, Perfecto R. Yasay, Jr., who had been criticized for statements that in effect served to capitulate to China, has calibrated his remarks of late, telling a congressional hearing on Tuesday, “When we start formal negotiations or bilateral engagements with China, we will have to do it within the context of the arbitral decision. There are no buts or ifs insofar as our policy on this matter is concerned.”
But Mr. Yasay also said: “What we are trying to do is to create the environment under which we can formally move forward towards bilateral negotiations with China.”
China, although a party to a United Nations treaty in connection with the Hague ruling, does not recognize that ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
Mr. Rhodes said of the ruling: “I think we’ll want to review the state of play as it relates to our treaty alliance in the situation in the South China Sea in that dialogue with the new president of the Philippines.”
When asked if Mr. Obama will raise certain “concerns” with Mr. Duterte in the light of this “gentleman[’s]... inflammatory remarks about the treatment of women, journalists, others,” Mr. Rhodes said:
“We absolutely expect that the President will raise concerns about some of the recent statements from the President of the Philippines, where we have differences, whether it relates to the human rights practices or derogatory comments. We take the opportunity of those meetings to raise those issues directly.”
Mr. Duterte has come under increasing criticism from local and international observers, including the US government and rights groups, over the killing spree in the course of his government’s war on illegal drugs. He has responded by pointing out police brutality in the US against African-Americans. Complicating this stand are his own derogatory remarks against whom he called the “gay” US ambassador to Manila Philip S. Goldberg, who earned Mr. Duterte’s ire after the diplomat criticized a rape joke of Mr. Duterte during the election campaign this year.
While he acknowledged these concerns, Mr. Rhodes also noted the “security environment in the region right now, and in the aftermath of the arbitration ruling, it’s essential that just as we will be talking to china about matters related to the South China Sea, that we’re also calling to ASEAN countries and treaty allies like the Philippines as well.
“So I think the discussion will encompass both concerns about statements that have been made by the president of the Philippines and our commitment to supporting human rights and all efforts that are undertaken bilaterally, and also again discussing the regional picture, particularly I think with a focus on maritime issues,” he reiterated.
Mr. Obama’s weekend trip marks his 10th in the Asia-Pacific, and the “rebalancing” of this region “has been a centerpiece of our foreign policy,” Mr. Rhodes also said, adding that Mr. Obama’s bilateral talks with China will be his “last occasion... to spend several hours with his Chinese counterpart,” Xi Jinping. -- main report by Reuters via BusinessWorld