Philippines says China's maritime-related proposals run contrary to its interests

A China Coast Guard vessel manoeuvres near Philippine Coast Guard vessel BRP Teresa Magbanua near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea
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By Karen Lema

MANILA (Reuters) -Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr said on Tuesday his country did not reject China's proposals on managing disputes in the South China Sea, but said that, since they stood on a questionable premise, it was "difficult to see a way forward".

"We have not rejected any proposals that China has made to us but the premise is something that we questioned...that premise that China has made is that their territory follows what is now described as a 10 dash line," Marcos said at a joint briefing with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Marcos, who was on a working visit in Germany, said China's expansive claims in the South China Sea were "not recognised by any country, any international body, certainly not by the Philippines".

A 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration found that China's sweeping claims had no legal basis, but China rejects that, and its foreign ministry said on Tuesday it "has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands."

"China and the Philippines have no territorial disputes in the South China Sea," foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said.

Wang said China had put forward initiatives to the Philippines "to control the maritime situation and work together."

"Unfortunately, the Philippines didn't reply, but made provocations and infringements in the South China Sea, undermining the atmosphere of cooperation," Wang said.

Tensions between Manila and Beijing over disputed waters in the South China Sea have heightened in recent months.

Last week, the Philippines accused the China Coast Guard of firing water cannons at one of its vessels involved in a resupply mission in the area, injuring four navy personnel.

In a separate statement on Tuesday, the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it had received several maritime-related proposals from China, but that they could not be considered because they were against the Southeast Asian country's national interests.

Among the latest proposals from China was one where it "insisted on actions that would be deemed as acquiescence or recognition of China's control and administration over the Ayungin Shoal." The Philippines could not consider such a proposal "without violating the constitution or international law," the DFA said in a statement.

Ayungin is the Philippines' name for the Second Thomas Shoal, which China calls the Renai reef.

The DFA was responding to a Manila Times report quoting an unidentified "ranking Chinese official" as saying that Beijing's proposals to normalise the situation in the South China Sea were "met with inaction" by the Philippine government.

"From the outset, DFA wishes to underscore that the Philippines is approaching these confidential negotiations with utmost sincerity and good faith," it said. "We were, therefore, surprised by China's disclosure of sensitive details of our bilateral discussions."

China presented 11 concept papers which proposed to manage the disputed Second Thomas Shoal and fishing issues around the Scarborough Shoal, among others, the Manila Times reported, quoting the Chinese official.

In the latest incident when water cannons were used, China said Philippine vessels illegally intruded, so it had to take control measures.

The Philippines did not ignore China's proposals, the DFA said, adding it submitted counter-proposals to which China responded by presenting its own counter-proposals which "did not reflect our interests on issues such as the South China Sea."

(Reporting by Karen Lema; Additional reporting by Mikhail Flores and Andrew Hayley; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor, Kim Coghill and Bernadette Baum)