By Genalyn Kabiling
The Philippines and China have agreed to practice self-restraint and avoid threat or use of force in the South China Sea to prevent an escalation of the territorial dispute.
The two countries have pushed for the peaceful resolution of the conflict and expressed support for freedom of navigation in the area following a meeting between President Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Manila last Tuesday.
Xi recently paid a two-day state visit to the country, promising more aid and investments amid efforts to improve Philippine-China ties that have been affected by the dispute in the resource-rich South China Sea.
“Both sides stay committed to addressing disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations and the 1982 UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea),” the joint statement read.
“Both sides agree to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities in the South China Sea that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability,” it added.
So far, the situation in the South China Sea has become “generally more stable” following the joint cooperative efforts between China,the Philippines, and other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members, according to the two parties.
Manila and Beijing have committed to work for the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in its entirety.
They agreed to keep the “positive momentum” of the negotiations on the single draft Code of Conduct (COC) negotiating text “with a view towards the early adoption of an effective COC, based on consensus.”
The two countries likewise recognized that the contentious issues involving the South China Sea were “not the sum total of China-Philippines bilateral relations and should not exclude mutually beneficial cooperation in other fields.”
As they continue the bilateral dialogue to manage the dispute, they have decided to enhance ties in maritime security to ensure the safety and security of the sea lanes.
“Both sides also note the importance of confidence-building measures to increase mutual trust and confidence,” it said.
“In this regard, both sides affirm the importance of the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea and the Maritime Cooperation Joint Committee between the two Coast Guards,” it added.
Manila and Beijing also agreed to “to maximize and strengthen the on-going coast guard, defense and military dialogue and liaison mechanisms, with a view to facilitating quick responses to situations on the ground and contributing to the enhancement of mutual trust and confidence between their coast guard and defense agencies.”
China and other Asian nations have overlapping claims in the resource-rich South China Sea. Tension in the region has risen as countries like the Philippines have protested China’s increased reclamation works and military buildup in the disputed waters.
The Hague-based arbitration court nullified China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea, saying it violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights by building artificial islands and interfering with fishing activities. China refused to recognize the ruling.
The tension later eased when President Duterte resorted to a bilateral dialogue with China to manage the territorial dispute. Instead of antagonizing China, he also pursued other areas of cooperation such as increased trade and investments between the two countries.