PH, China set to begin bilateral talks on ‘sensitive’ maritime issues
BEIJING—The Philippines and China would start bilateral talks on the “sensitive” issue of the South China Sea dispute next week, the country’s envoy here said Saturday.
“By next week, we will inaugurate the bilateral consultative mechanism on issues. This is where the sensitive issues will be discussed,” Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana told reporters here.
Sta. Romana said the bilateral talks between the two nations would be held on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) event with China in southwestern China.
“The first session will really cover the terms of reference and the basic (issues). (We will) try to draw an agenda so the first session will be the long step in the long journey… What it provides is a platform, a mechanism to bring out the issue,” he said.
President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping, he said, would not attend the talks.
But Sta. Romana said he would join the talks together with his counterpart Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jinhua. Other foreign affairs officials at deputy minister and undersecretary levels would also attend, he said.
The South China Sea issue has strained the Philippines’ relations with China after the latter claimed almost all parts of the minerals-rich region.
The Philippines won a landmark decision at the United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal but China has repeatedly rejected the decision.
Duterte has said that he would use a “soft landing” approach in tackling the issue, saying he prefers a diplomatic way of solving the issue.
Sta. Romana said the bilateral talks would be an opportunity to exchange views on both countries’ position over the disputed sea.
“It will be an exchange of views. At least, you are able to communicate, not through a megaphone but in a room where the two sides will meet, not open to the media but at least where they can speak directly to each other and try to understand,” he said.
“We have to clarify what is our position on the issue, and for the Chinese to clarify their position on a certain issue is at least a first step in trying to understand where the difference lies,” he said.
Duterte is set to arrive here on Saturday night to attend the “One Road, One Belt” Forum. This is the second time Duterte would visit China after a four-day state visit in October 2016.
He is also scheduled to have a bilateral talk with Xi where the issue of South China Sea might be discussed. IDL