(CNN)The Philippines has turned down bilateral talks with Beijing over the South China Sea dispute, after China’s foreign ministry insisted a landmark court ruling against them could not even be mentioned at the meeting.
Perfecto Yasay, Foreign Affairs Secretary, told local broadcaster ANC that Chinese officials had asked them for talks, but only if Manila disregarded last week’s ruling, which went overwhelmingly in the Philippines favor.
“They had asked us also to open ourselves for bilateral negotiations but outside of and in disregard of the arbitration ruling,” Yasay said in an interview.
“I told him that this is something that was not consistent with our constitution and our national interest.”
Yasay said he met with China’s foreign minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Meeting in Mongolia starting on July 15.
According to Yasay, Chinese officials had said if the Philippines pressed their claims, both countries could be headed for trouble.
“They said that if you will insist on the ruling and discussing it along those lines, then we might be headed for a confrontation,” he told ANC.
The foreign secretary also said he saw some room for backdoor negotiations and hoped that China would rethink its stance.
Yasay added the Philippines wanted some assurance that their fishermen will continue to have access to the disputed Scarborough Shoal to fish.
“The tribunal have really debunked in no unmistakable terms the position of China in so far as the nine-dash line is concerned,” he said.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed there had been an informal chat between the foreign ministers during the summit, in which Wang Yi explained “China’s principles and position.”
“Wang stated that if the new Philippines government was willing to resume dialogue and consultation with China, manage and control disparities and improve relations, China would like to meet it half way,” MOFA said in a statement, adding Wang believed consultation between China and the Philippines was in both countries’ interests.
It comes one week after the international Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines, after the country brought a case against China over the territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea.
The court, based in the Hague, ruled there was no legal basis for China’s historic claims to a large area in the South China Sea.
China immediately said it would ignore the ruling and didn’t consider it valid, as it had always maintained.
New Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping have not spoken at least since the verdict, Yasay added.
The Philippines had previously announced former Philippines’ President Fidel V. Ramos to act as a special envoy to Beijing on the South China Sea, but in Tuesday’s interview, Yasay didn’t know if Ramos had accepted the role yet.
China to hold military drills
Yasay’ interview came one day after the China Daily, a state newspaper, reported that the People’s Liberation Army would be holding drills in the South China Sea between July 19 to 21.
Although the exercises will be conducted close to Hainan Island, near to the Chinese mainland and far from the disputed Spratley Islands, it is just the latest in a series of moves China has made to prove it is disregarding the Hague’s ruling.
On July 14, China conducted an emergency military drill in the South China Sea, according to Xinhua, who also confirmed on Monday there had been a combat air patrol over the area recently, which would become ‘regular.’
Despite China’s refusal to acknowledge the ruling on the South China Sea, diplomatic efforts on all sides are ongoing.
On Monday, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson met Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy Commander Admiral Wu Shengli at the navy headquarters in Beijing, their first in-person meeting.
According to the Pentagon, both men discussed the South China Sea and how the two navies could engage safely in the future.