June 1, 2016 / 10:55 AM / 3 years ago

China welcomes Manila's offer for South China Sea talks

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s said on Wednesday it welcomed a proposal by the incoming Philippine government for bilateral talks on the disputed South China Sea.

Members of Philippine Marines is pictured at BRP Sierra Madre, a dilapidated Philippine Navy ship that has been aground since 1999 and became a Philippine military detachment on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea March 29, 2014. Picture taken March 29, 2014. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

China claims almost the whole of the South China Sea while the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan have overlapping claims. The sea is rich in oil, gas and fish, and trade worth trillions of dollars passes through it each year.

Tension between the Philippines and China has risen as an international tribunal in the Hague prepares to deliver a ruling in the next few months in a case about the South China Sea lodged by Manila in 2013.

The Philippines is seeking a clarification of U.N. maritime laws that could undermine China’s claims to 90 percent of the South China Sea. China has rejected the court’s authority.

Philippines President-elect Rodrigo Duterte has backed multilateral talks to settle rows over the South China Sea that would include the United States, Japan and Australia as well as claimant nations.

He has also called on China to respect the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone granted to coastal states under international law.

But he also said on Tuesday his country would not rely on long-term security ally the United States, signaling greater independence from Washington in dealing with China.

Duterte pick for foreign secretary, Perfecto Yasay, sounded a conciliatory note this week, saying he would like to resume bilateral talks with China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she welcomed the comments and hoped the new Philippines government could return to a track of bilateral talks, appropriately handle disputes and work hard for the healthy development of ties.

China hopes to get relations with the Philippines back on track, President Xi Jinping told Duterte this week.

Reporting by Michael Martina; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel

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