MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines and China on Friday stressed the need for diplomatic approaches to maritime issues in the South China — part of which is the West Philippine Sea — as Chinese diplomats are in Manila for a series of talks with their Filipino counterparts.
The 7th meeting on the Philippines-China Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) on the South China Sea, which is an avenue for the two countries to discuss maritime issues. The first BCM was held in 2017.
“The Philippines and China are in agreement that maritime issues do not comprise the totality of bilateral relations between our two countries. However, maritime issues continue to remain a serious concern to the Filipino people,” DFA Undersecretary for Bilateral Relations and ASEAN Affairs Ma. Theresa Lazaro said during the opening session.
“Additionally, most our countries’ leaders agreed that maritime issues should be addressed through diplomacy and dialogue, and never through coercion and intimidation.”
Maritime issues continue to cloud the relationship between the Philippines and China, which sought better ties with each other during the Duterte administration despite the simmering dispute in the South China Sea.
Beijing continues to ignore the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which invalidates China’s sweeping nine dash claims that included portions of the West Philippine Sea and the Philippines has repeatedly filed diplomatic protests over Chinese ships in its waters.
Manila recently expressed disappointment after an incident occured just weeks after President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s state visit to China, where the two countries also inked a pact to establish a direct communication line for West Philippine Sea issues.
Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Sun Weidong, head of the delegation of Chinese diplomats visiting this week, said that the issues “are an important part of China-Philippines relations that should not be ignored.”
“In the past years, through friendly dialogue and consultations, our two countries hav generally managed and effectively dealt with our differences on maritime issues and we have also advanced our practical cooperation and mutual trust,” Sun said, adding that Beijing is ready to cooperate with Manila.
The Philippines has filed hundreds of diplomatic protests against China since 2016.
On Friday, Lazaro said they “intend to discuss in a frank manner” these maritime issues as well as explore other means of cooperation, such as in fisheries and in marine environment protection
23rd Foreign Ministry Consultations
On Thursday, Manila and Beijing held the 23rd Philippines-China Foreign Ministry Consultations (FMC), which Lazaro said “was a very fruitful meeting.”
“We are keen to work with China on infrastructure, considering the priorities of the current Philippine administration’s Build Better More program, and China’s Belt and Road Initiative,” Lazaro said in a statement released Friday morning.
“Finishing identified infrastructure projects quickly would be important for Philippine-Chinese cooperation.”
The FMC provides an opportunity for the two countries to implement deals agreed upon during Marcos Jr.’s state visit to China in January, where 14 agreements were inked and Manila brought home $23.6-billion worth of investment pledges.
The Philippines said that aside from infrastructure, it hopes for more opportunities of collaboration with China on areas such as agriculture, energy science and technology, and tourism.