Philippines to China: SCS issues remain ‘serious’ concern

Michael Punongbayan - The Philippine Star
Philippines to China: SCS issues remain �serious� concern
Photo released by the Philippine Coast Guard yesterday shows a sailor from the French Navy frigate FS Prairial saluting as the PCG patrol vessel BRP Capones passes during exercises in the waters off Agno, Pangasinan earlier this week. They performed flashing light, semaphore and flag hoist drills to ensure both parties can efficiently communicate and cooperate in times of war and humanitarian relief operations.

MANILA, Philippines — The country’s maritime rift with China remains “a serious concern” to Filipinos, but the preeminence of diplomacy and dialogue has again emerged as the consensus among officials of the two countries convened for the 7th Bilateral Consultations Mechanism (BCM) on the South China Sea (SCS).

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Theresa Lazaro said this year’s discussions were meant to address maritime issues in a diplomatic and cooperative way.

“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,” Lazaro said in her opening statement at the meeting.

Lazaro noted that both Philippine and Chinese leaders have agreed “that maritime issues should be addressed through diplomacy and dialogue and never through coercion and

The two-day meeting ended yesterday.

“The meeting today is an attempt to follow through on that decision. The BCM, established and first convened in 2017, has served as the primary platform for confidence building and promoting maritime cooperation between our two countries,” she said.

Lazaro emphasized that this year’s iteration was particularly important as both sides worked to implement the agreements reached between President Marcos and President Xi Jinping during the former’s state visit to China in January.

“As in the past years, we intend to discuss in a frank manner issues of concern and will endeavor to identify mutually acceptable approaches towards addressing the issues in today’s meeting,” she said.

“Both sides will also look at positive cooperation, activities in the relevant sub-areas of the BCM, including on fisheries cooperation and marine environment protection among others,” she added.

Lazaro said the Philippines fervently hopes that this year’s discussions “will have a good complement to existing bilateral and regional dialogue platforms, contribute to preventing and properly managing incidents at the sea, building mutual trust and confidence, play a significant role in the stable and steady progress of bilateral relations, and realize a more peaceful and stable situation in the West Philippine Sea-South China Sea, which will ultimately contribute to regional peace and development.”

Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Sun Weidong, in response, said the Philippines and China should remain good neighbors with good bilateral relations.

“China and the Philippines are both neighbors and partners and our two countries need to stay committed to good neighborliness, deepen mutually beneficial cooperation, enhance mutual understanding and trust,” he said.

“We believe that this is the only right path for us to develop the bilateral relations. Maritime issues are an important part of China-Philippines relations that should not be ignored,” Sun pointed out.

He said in the past years, through friendly dialogue and consultations, the Philippines and China “have generally managed and effectively dealt with our differences on maritime issues and we have also advanced our practical cooperation and mutual trust.”

“We need to properly deal with these issues through friendly consultations. This points the direction and provides the guidance for us to deal with and solve maritime issues between the two countries,” he said.

“China stands ready to work with the Philippines, under the guidance of the important consensus between the two Presidents, and to deepen our communication and cooperation on maritime areas, to deliver more benefits to our two peoples, to advance the development of our bilateral relations and to uphold stability in the region,” Sun said.

As the meeting was being held, a French Navy frigate engaged a Philippine Coast Guard patrol vessel in a passing exercise in the South China Sea.

The exercise, involving French Navy frigate FS Prairial (F731) and PCG patrol vessel BRP Capones (MRRV-4404), is a customary procedure done when ships meet at sea.

The French embassy in Manila said such joint maneuvers are an excellent way to develop inter-allied interoperability.

“France illustrates on this occasion its status as a coastal and sovereign nation of the Pacific, concerned with the security issues of the region,” an embassy statement read.

It said the Prairial is a Floréal class frigate based in Papeete belonging to the Armed Forces in French Polynesia commanded by Rear Admiral Geoffroy d’Andigné.

It has a crew of about 100. The French embassy said the 94-meter long ship also carries a Dauphin helicopter and regularly carries out missions in Asia.

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