Philippines, China hold first South China Sea dialogue

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. The meeting was held in Guiyang, Guizhou Province, China headlined as: First Meeting of China-Philippines Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea (BCM).

”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.