By Roy Mabasa
The Philippines and China are scheduled to start discussions on a bilateral mechanism on the South China Sea this coming May.
This was confirmed by both the Philippine and Chinese governments in an effort to normalize relations between the two countries amid their longstanding territorial dispute over parts of the resource-rich South China Sea.
In a statement Wednesday (March 29), Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Charles Jose said right now the two sides are discussing the specific dates in May for the meeting.
“No agreement yet on the agenda,” Jose said.
In a press briefing in Beijing, a transcript of which was posted in the official website of the Chinese Embassy in Manila, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said the two sides agreed during the 20th round of Sino-Philippine diplomatic consultation last January to establish a bilateral consultation mechanism on the South China Sea issue, with the two foreign ministries as the coordinators, to discuss issues of mutual concern and promote maritime cooperation and security.
According to Hua, the Chinese side has invited competent officials of the Philippine foreign ministry to visit China in May for the first meeting of this mechanism.
“The two sides are having friendly consultations on the specifics of relevant matters,” she said. “The Chinese side is willing to further strengthen communication and dialogue with the Philippine side to properly manage differences, enhance maritime cooperation and create a favorable atmosphere for practical cooperation between the two sides and the healthy and steady growth of Sino-Philippine relations.”
Hua likewise confirmed that the Chinese government has invited the Philippine Coast Guard to send a delegation to visit China at an early date as a step to ensure that the South China Sea becomes a sea of cooperation.
This high level visit is part of the agreement reached last February when China and the Philippines held the inaugural meeting of China-Philippines joint coast guard committee for maritime cooperation. During the meeting, the two sides agreed on a list of cooperation projects for 2017 through friendly consultation which includes visits by vessels and ships, joint exercises and capacity building.
“The two sides are communicating on the specifics of relevant matters,” said Hua. “We believe that cooperation between the two coast guards will help deepen mutual trust and friendship between China and the Philippines and give impetus for the healthy and steady growth of bilateral relations.”