The Philippines on Friday conveyed to China that the disputed South China Sea remains a “serious” source of concern between the two maritime neighbors.
This concern was conveyed by Maria Theresa Lazaro, foreign affairs undersecretary of the Philippines, during a press conference with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong in the capital 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.
Sun is in Manila to attend the 7th Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) between the Philippines and China on the South China Sea, which has been resumed for the first time in four years. The physical dialogue was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lazaro said the two sides “agreed to address the maritime concerns through talks.” The briefing was live-streamed by the Philippines Foreign Affairs department with translations.
“Additionally, both our countries’ leaders agreed that maritime issues should be addressed through diplomacy and dialogue and never through coercion and intimidation,” she added.
Sun, for his part, said the two sides had “effectively dealt” with their maritime differences.
“In the past years, through friendly dialogue and consultations, our two countries have generally managed and properly dealt with our differences on maritime issues, and we have also advanced our practical cooperation and our mutual trust,” he said.
Sun has been in Manila since Wednesday for official negotiations.
He said the BCM has helped “uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
“We need to stay committed to good neighborliness and enhance mutual understanding (and) trust,” he added.
“The maritime issues are an important path of China-Philippines relations that should not be ignored,” said Sun.
The mineral-rich warm waters of the South China Sea have long been the subject of contention between China and some regional countries, with the US siding with countries opposing China’s claims.
Washington has frequently sailed its warships and flown its fighter jets over the warm waters of the South China Sea under the so-called “freedom of navigation,” which Beijing has repeatedly called a violation of its territorial integrity.
ASEAN members Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam all have coastlines on the South China Sea. Taiwan, which Beijing claims is a part of China, is also a claimant.
China and the ASEAN signed “Declaration on the Conduct” — an agreement on the South China Sea in November 2002, marking China’s first acceptance of a multilateral agreement on the issue.
China’s claims are based on its so-called “nine-dash line,” which are purple dashes on official Chinese maps that represent Beijing’s historical claims to the sea.
However, in 2016, the Philippines won a case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that invalidated China’s South China Sea expansion claims.
Source : AA