The Philippines has reportedly rejected China's offer to hold bilateral talks, saying Beijing's proposal had come with a pre-condition that the South China Sea dispute was off the table.

Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said when he met his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) over the weekend (16-17 July), Wang had asked him to steer clear of the South China Sea issue. Wang reportedly said if the Philippines insisted that China abide by The Hague verdict, both the countries might be "headed for a confrontation", Reuters reported.

"But I really honestly feel that this is something they have to make on a public basis but I also sensed there was room for us to talk very quietly using backdoor channels," Yasay told broadcaster ABS-CBN.

China has stood firm on its decision to reject the Permanent Court of Arbitration's ruling. It has long been accused of building artificial islands in the disputed maritime territory that has reportedly destroyed coral reefs and hampered fishing and oil exploration.

Yasay said Wang had asked him to consider bilateral negotiations but only on issues "outside, or [in] disregard of, the arbitral ruling". Yasay is said to have refused to budge citing it was not in his country's "national interest".

Yasay is reported to have wanted Filipinos to be allowed to fish in the Scarborough Shoal without being harassed by the Chinese coast guard, which has allegedly been blocking Filipino boats from entering or fishing in the heavily contested shoals.

Despite the international tribunal ruling that China has violated maritime law, it conducted air patrols on Monday (18 July) which it said would be a "regular practice" from now on. State media quoted Chinese air force spokesman Shen Jinke as saying that fighters, scouts, H-6K bombers and tankers had recently patrolled the disputed waters.

China's military drills and patrols in response to The Hague ruling were much anticipated by experts and analysts, but the actions have sparked tensions and raised fears over Beijing's assertiveness in expanding its military operations.

"The PLA Air Force will firmly defend national sovereignty, security and maritime interests, safeguard regional peace and stability, and cope with various threats and challenges," Shen told the government portal China.org.

South China Sea ruling
Filipino activists and Vietnamese nationals march as they anticipate a favourable decision from a UN tribunal ruling on the legality of China's claims to an area of the South China Sea contested by the Philippines, during a demonstration along the bay walk in Roxas Boulevard in ManilaTed Aljibe/ AFP File photo