By Roy Mabasa
In an effort to peacefully resolve their dispute over certain parts of the South China Sea, the Philippines and China formally established on Friday a Bilateral Consultation Mechanism during which both sides reviewed their experiences on the contentious issues.
In a joint press statement issued after the inaugural meeting of the BCM held at the New World Hotel in Guiyang, Guizhou Province, Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago L. Sta. Romana and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said they exchanged views on issues related to the South China Sea “in a frank, in-depth, and friendly manner” while reiterating their commitment to cooperate and to find ways to strengthen mutual trust and confidence.
Sta. Romana led the Philippine delegation while Liu headed the Chinese delegation.
During the meeting, Sta. Romana and Liu initialed the terms of reference (TOR) of the BCM which was agreed upon at the diplomatic consultations between the two states’ foreign ministries in January 2017. Both agreed that the TOR should be a platform for confidence-building measures and for promoting maritime cooperation and maritime security.
They also reached a consensus that the BCM will comprise of equivalent officials from the respective foreign ministries and relevant maritime affairs agencies, and will meet alternately in the Philippines and China once every six months.
Both parties further reported that during the meeting they reviewed their respective experiences on the South China Sea issue, exchanged views on current and other issues of concern to either side, and agreed to further discuss mutually acceptable approaches to deal with them.
They also held discussions on issues including the promotion of next-step practical maritime cooperation and the possible establishment of relevant technical working groups.
With a view to creating a sound atmosphere for the healthy and steady growth of bilateral relations and for the smooth progress of practical cooperation in various fields, the Philippines and China exchanged views on the importance of addressing concerns in the South China Sea and handling incidents and disputes in the South China Sea in an appropriate manner.
The second meeting of the BCM will be held in the Philippines in the second half of 2017, while the exact date and place will be determined and mutually agreed upon through diplomatic channels.