Philippines, China touch base on opportunities for maritime cooperation

Kaycee Valmonte - Philstar.com
Philippines, China touch base on opportunities for maritime cooperation
Theresa Lazaro (center-L), Philippines' Undersecretary for Bilateral Relations and Asian Affairs of the Department of Foreign Affairs, talk with China's Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong (center-R) during the Philippines-China Foreign Ministry consultation meeting in Manila on March 23, 2023.
AFP / POOL / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — As the Philippines and China wrapped up its Bilateral Consultation Mechanism last week, the two countries vowed to continue to look into opportunities for maritime cooperation despite issues in the West Philippine Sea, committing to abide by international law while doing so. 

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Bilateral Relations and ASEAN Affairs Ma. Theresa Lazaro and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong led the 7th meeting of the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea on Friday.

Lazaro, in a statement, said the Philippines “looks forward to a time that the news would no longer report on Philippines-China maritime incidents, but instead focus on mutually beneficial endeavors.” 

READ: Philippines, China again stress 'friendly dialogue' on South China Sea issues

Manila and Beijing last Friday explored opportunities that include maritime training, capacity building for Philippine personnel, exchange visits, among others. The two countries also agreed to schedule a separate meeting involving other agencies to implement the existing bilateral cooperation mechanisms. 

The meeting came just weeks after reports of Chinese vessels swarming areas within Philippine territory and an incident where the China coast guard directed a military-grade laser against a Philippine ship on a resupply mission within the vicinity of the Ayungin Shoal. 

The Philippines has expressed disappointment over recent incidents, especially since these came just weeks after President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s state visit to China in January.

An Associated Press report last week noted that diplomats from the Philippines planned to serve new diplomatic protests against China over its aggression in the West Philippine Sea during the meeting.

Commitment to international law

Both countries have previously agreed that there is more to the bilateral relationship beyond maritime issues. However, the Philippines during the 7th BCM also stressed that the issues “remain a serious concern to the Filipino people.”

ANYARE? West Philippine Sea is ours, but its benefits are the world's

“Most our countries’ leaders agreed that maritime issues should be addressed through diplomacy and dialogue, and never through coercion and intimidation,” Lazaro said during the opening plenary last Friday. 

RELATED: Poll: 84% of Filipinos want to leverage US partnership for WPS defense

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister said China stands ready to cooperate with the Philippines, guided by international law such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, to ensure peace and stability in the region. 

In a statement on Saturday, the Department of Foreign Affairs said both countries repeated their positions on the 2016 Arbitral Award on the South China Sea. The Permanent Court of Arbitration has invalidated China’s sweeping nine-dash claims since it already goes beyond its territory and found China violating some of its obligations under the UNCLOS.

China has repeatedly called the ruling “illegal, null, and void.” The Philippines, however, has since welcomed international support in asserting its rights over the West Philippine Sea. 

RELATED: Carpio: China’s consent not needed to enforce South China Sea ruling

On Friday, diplomats also “stressed their resolve to finalize an effective and substantive [South China Sea] Code of Conduct.” However, the DFA also previously said that the document is still “very far” from conclusion.

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