China, PHL tackle contentious South China Sea issues in friendly dialogue
By Jelly F. Musico
GUIYANG, China(Philippines News Agency) – China and the Philippines on Friday engaged in a candid but friendly discussion where officials from the two countries tackled almost all contentious issues on the South China Sea dispute.
”There was no issue that was left untouched, almost. We touched on several sensitive issues but we didn’t dwell, we don’t impose on the Chinese,” Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana said in a media interview after the 1st Meeting on the China-Philippines Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China at the New World Hotel here.
”This is the purpose of this bilateral consultative mechanism: to discuss issues that are contentious while we proceed on the non-contentious issues in other fields that are making progress,” Sta. Romana, head of the Philippines delegation to the meeting, added.
Sta. Romana said the Philippines side raised the issues of arbitration, disputed Spratly islands and the Filipino fishermen’s right to fish in the disputed territory.
”There have been recent incidents in the South China Sea that we raised with them because it is a concern: the fishing rights, the behavior of fishermen, the treatment of the Filipino fishermen in the South China Sea and they clarified their position,” Sta. Romana said.
Sta. Romana described the first bilateral meeting under the renewed China-Philippines relations as “excellent meeting.”
”Because it was very candid, it was very frank but at the same time, it was all conducted in a friendly tone,” the Filipino envoy to China said.
”I mean the differences we have with China did not arise in one night, neither can we solve it in one session,” he added.
Although differences were discussed during the three-hour meeting, Sta. Romana said the Philippines side and the China delegation headed by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin, have found ways to discuss maritime cooperation in the South China Sea.
”So what we are trying to do is to create condition that we will create mutual trust and confidence and to build on a better foundation so that eventually we can resolve these issues although it will take sometime,” Sta. Romana said.
Sta. Romana said the Philippines and China will pursue possible areas of maritime cooperation in the South China Sea “without prejudice to our respective claims.”
”So this is the significance of this bilateral consultative mechanism that we can discuss contentious issues, we can discuss sensitive issues but we can do it in a candid, frank and friendly way. And at the same time, explore areas of maritime cooperation.
He said the first bilateral meeting since President Rodrigo Duterte revived the Philippines-China relations was a big step in building a better foundation for the relations between two countries.
In a joint press statement, Liu and Sta. Romana initialed the Term of References (TOR) that was reached during the diplomatic consultations between the two states’ Foreign Ministries in January this year to establish the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM).
Both sides agreed the BCM should be a platform for confidence-building measures and for promoting maritime cooperation and maritime security.
The BCM will comprise equivalent officials from the respective foreign ministries and relevant maritime affairs agencies.
The delegates agreed to hold the BCM once in every six months with the next meeting to be held in Manila later this year.
The two sides also agreed to address concerns, to handle incidents and disputes in the South China Sea “in an appropriate manner.”
”Such discussions are consistent with the October 2016 Joint Statement where both sides reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace and stability, freedom of navigation in, and over-flight above the South China Sea,” the press statement said.
The two sides agreed to address the territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly involved on the issue.
It added that disputes will be resolved “in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law” including the Charter of the United Nations and the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The Philippines-China relations has been rejuvenated following President Duterte’s four-day state visit in Beijing in October last year upon the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Last May 14-15, President Duterte returned to China for the first Belt and Road Forum on International Cooperation. On its sidelines, the two Presidents held expanded bilateral meeting.
The Philippines-China relations hit a snag after the Philippines filed an arbitration case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague in 2013 to contest China’s ‘nine-dash line’ claim on South China Sea.
A month after President Duterte took his oath as President in June last year, the UN-backed arbitration court released its judgment in favor of the Philippines.
However, President Duterte decided to temporarily shelve the verdict to allow resolution of the maritime dispute through peaceful means and dialogues. (PNA)