Philippines and China keep lines open on maritime row
BEIJING — The Philippines and China agreed to resolve differences in maritime claims through bilateral mechanisms without prejudice to their burgeoning alliance and economic cooperation.
President Rodrigo Duterte raised the issue of the West Philippine Sea, particularly the situation in Pag-asa Island, during bilateral meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping on Thursday.
“Both agree that the situation can be managed by the mechanism of bilateral negotiations but it should not affect the cooperation being undertaken by both the Philippines and China and they look forward to a productive discussion on matters of mutual concern and interests,” Presidential spokesperson and chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo said in a statement Thursday night.
Keeping the maritime row within bilateral mechanism means that the parties agree to keep diplomatic channels open, as opposed to elevating the dispute to international court or arbitration as what was the course of action during the term of Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno S. Aquino III.
Although Philippine-China relations have improved since Duterte’s rise to power, tensions in the West Philippine Sea have recently escalated with Chinese militia’s swarming of Philippine-controlled Pag-asa Island, and the poaching of giant clams by Chinese fisherfolks in Scarborough Shoal.
Xi had expounded on the importance of “good neighborliness and proper handling of differences between the countries.” While the Chinese leader acknowledged the inevitability of having challenges to the bilateral relations, Panelo said the Chinese leader had underscored the “mutual trust” existing between the two nations in order to resolve such differences.
The Chinese leader cited the Memorandum of Understanding on oil and gas exploration that was signed during his visit to Manila last year as an example where both the Philippines and China suspended their differences for a joint exploration that would mutually benefit both countries and their peoples.
On China’s commitment to the Philippines under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Xi pledged to provide more resources to Luzon and Mindanao to spur regional economic growth. He also committed to promote Clark Green City by building an industrial park.
Xi also sees the BRI playing an important role in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-China relations as well as in the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA).
Aside from his country’s commitments in relation to the BRI, Xi mentioned that the first group of Filipino teachers may soon start teaching English in China. He also committed to continue donating rice and fingerlings and importing Philippines fruits.
Lastly, he committed to provide one billion yuan grant to the Philippines.
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