PH, China agree on importance of dialogue to ease West PH Sea tension — DFA
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines and China have agreed on the importance of holding dialogues on territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) to deescalate tension over the disputed waters.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said there were “friendly and candid exchanges” on the situation and concern over the WPS during the sixth meeting of the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea (BCM) held on Friday.
The BCM is a bilateral forum formed by President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese president Xi Jinping during their 2016 meeting.
“There was mutual recognition of the importance of dialogue in easing tensions and understanding each country’s position and intentions in the area. Both sides acknowledged the importance of addressing differences in an atmosphere of openness and cordiality to pave the way for practical cooperation and initiatives,” DFA said in a statement on Saturday.
“The Philippines reiterated its long-standing call for full respect and adherence to international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and its authoritative interpretation and application – the final and binding 2016 South China Sea Arbitral Award,” it added.
The recent talks on the WPS came after the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) reported the presence of over 200 Chinese boats last March near the Julian Felipe Reef, which is well within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
Former Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has urged President Duterte to bring forward the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling in 2016, which invalidated China’s nine-dash line claim.
Duterte, however, reiterated that bringing up the ruling would only trigger conflict with China.
Aside from Acting Undersecretary for Bilateral Relations and ASEAN Affairs Elizabeth Buensuceso and Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Wu Jianghao, several other officials participated in the talks.
The Philippine delegation included officials from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), National Security Council (NSC), Department of National Defense (DND), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Department of Justice DOJ) and other agencies.
Another issue that, according to DFA, was discussed, was progress of the settlement for fishermen of the fishing boat Gem-Ver, which sank after a collision with a Chinese boat.
The sinking of Gem-Ver became controversial as local authorities reported that the crew of the Chinese vessel did not try avoid the collision — aside from the fact that the Filipino fishermen were abandoned at sea and were rescued by Vietnamese counterparts.
“Encouraged by the positive momentum in the bilateral relations of the two countries, the three working groups of the BCM (political-security, fisheries cooperation, and marine environmental protection/marine scientific research) tackled common issues and possible areas of cooperation,” the DFA added.
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