Home Economy Philippines, China reopen talks to ease tensions in South China Sea

Philippines, China reopen talks to ease tensions in South China Sea

BRP SIERRA MADRE, a marooned transport ship which Philippine Marines live in as a military outpost, sits on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. — REUTERS

THE PHILIPPINES and China have resumed talks to ease tensions in the South China Sea, according to Manila’s Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Manila is hosting the latest round of talks between the two countries under their bilateral consultation mechanism, a format to specifically address South China Sea disputes.

China and the Philippines have recently accused each other of raising tensions in disputed shoals and reefs in the waterway Sea, including an incident last month that seriously injured a Filipino navy sailor.

“It is not done yet,” Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique A. Manalo told reporters in Filipino on Tuesday when asked about the meeting. He expects the talks to result in confidence-building measures to manage tensions.

Later in the day, the DFA issued a statement saying Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ma. Theresa P. Lazaro and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong had frank and constructive discussions on the South China Sea situation.

“In her comments, Undersecretary Lazaro underscored to her counterpart that the Philippines will be relentless in protecting its interests and upholding its sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea,” it said in a statement.

“Noting recent incidents in the South China Sea, both sides recognized that there is a need to restore trust, rebuild confidence and create conditions conducive to productive dialogue and interaction,” it added.

The two sides discussed their positions on Second Thomas Shoal and affirmed their commitment to de-escalate tensions.

“There was substantial progress on developing measures to manage the situation at sea, but significant differences remain,” the DFA said. “Both sides agreed to continue discussions to find a mutually acceptable resolution to the issues.”

The two sides also talked about the possibility of convening an academic forum among scientists and academics on marine scientific and technological cooperation, the agency said.

The bilateral consultation mechanism was established in May 2017 amid sea disputes among Southeast Asian countries.

Last month, both countries held a working group meeting in preparation for the dialogue, Mr. Manalo earlier told a Senate hearing.

TERRITORIAL SOVEREIGNTYAs this developed, China’s coast guard said the Philippines on Monday dispatched three vessels to resupply a Philippine coast guard vessel “illegally” stranded at a reef in the South China Sea that Beijing claims as part of its territory.

In a statement, it said it had followed and monitored the supply mission to Sabina Shoal, and that the vessels’ presence at the reef violated China’s territorial sovereignty and undermined peace and stability in the South China Sea.

China’s Foreign Ministry has expressed willingness to continue working with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to manage differences at sea and deepen sea-related cooperation.

ASEAN and China have been in talks since 2002 to craft a code of conduct in the waterway.

Chinese Coast Guard men with bladed weapons on June 17 blocked a resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal, where the Philippines grounded the BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II-era ship in 1999 to bolster is sea claim.

They boarded Philippine rubber boats and looted several rifles, actions that Philippine military chief Romeo S. Brawner, Jr. said only “pirates” do.

A Filipino Navy officer on a rubber boat lost his thumb when the Chinese Coast Guard rammed the army’s boat, the military said.

China has disputed the Philippine account, saying the actions by its coast guard were lawful and beyond reproach.

Manila has protested the incident through a note verbale to China, Mr. Manalo told reporters last week.

The country under President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. has filed 164 diplomatic protests against China, 31 of which were filed this year according to the DFA.

The Philippine President has said the government must do more beyond filing protests against China, which he said deliberately and illegally blocked a resupply mission in the South China Sea.

More than $3 trillion worth of trade passes yearly through the sea, which China claims almost in its entirety. A United Nations-backed tribunal in 2016 voided its claim for being illegal.

“Amidst the various international challenges and conflicts, the international community must be united in preserving a world where differences are resolved peacefully, on the basis of the rule of international law,” Mr. Manalo told a news briefing meeting with Holy See Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Paul Gallagher in Manila on Tuesday.

The archbishop called for the peaceful resolution of conflicts, including tensions between the Philippines and China.

In the first visit to Manila by a Vatican Foreign minister in 75 years of relations between the Holy See and the predominantly Catholic nation, Mr. Gallagher said every effort must be made to resolve any differences peacefully.

“We encourage parties in conflict to abide by international law,” he told reporters during the joint briefing with Mr. Manalo. — John Victor D. Ordoñez with Reuters

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