PH to Beijing: South China Sea issues remain ‘serious’ concern

PH tells Beijing: South China Sea issues remain ‘serious’ concern

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ma. Theresa Lazaro delivers a speech during the opening session of the seventh Bilateral Consultations Mechanism on the South China Sea held in Manila on Friday, March 24, 2023. Screengrab from DFA Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines — South China Sea issues remain a “serious” concern, Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Bilateral Relations and Association of Southeast Asian Nations Affairs Ma. Theresa Lazaro said during the opening session of the Philippines and China’s seventh Bilateral Consultations Mechanism on the South China Sea in Manila.

“The Philippines and China are in agreement that maritime issues do not comprise the totality of bilateral relations between our two countries. However, maritime issues continue to remain a serious concern to the Filipino people,” Lazaro said during the consultation.

The two nations, Lazaro noted, agreed to address the maritime concerns through talks.

“Additionally, both our countries’ leaders agreed that maritime issues should be addressed through diplomacy and dialogue and never through coercion and intimidation,” she said.

During the discussions, the Philippines and China will look at positive cooperation on fisheries and marine environment protection, among other areas.

Manila is hoping that its dialogue with Beijing would prosper and lead to a “peaceful” West Philippine Sea and South China Sea.

“It is the Philippines’ fervent hope that the discussions will have and would complement existing bilateral and regional dialogue platforms, contribute to preventing and properly managing incidents at sea, building mutual trust and confidence, play a significant role in the stable and steady progress of bilateral relations, and realize a more peaceful and stable situation in the West Philippine Sea, South China Sea, which will ultimately contribute to regional peace and development,” Lazaro said.

For his part, China’s Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong said that the Philippines and China have “effectively dealt” with maritime differences.

“In the past years, through friendly dialogue and consultations, our two countries have generally managed and effectively dealt with our differences on maritime issues, and we have also advanced our practical cooperation and our mutual trust,” Sun said in Chinese.

During Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s state visit to China last January, he and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to boost diplomatic channels and current dialogue mechanisms, especially on maritime concerns.

Manila and Beijing have a long-standing dispute on the West Philippine Sea in the South China Sea.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that Manila has sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea, rejecting Beijing’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea.

READ: PH wins arbitration case over South China Sea

Despite the decision, China continues its intrusion and harassment in the West Philippine Sea, burdening Filipinos, especially fishermen.

READ: ‘Innocent passage’: China defends ship’s illegal intrusion in Sulu Sea

READ: PH may keep protesting vs China ships driving away Filipino fishers