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PH, China to lower SCS tensions

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian and Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning
Rey E. Requejo

Vow closer dialog to deal with ‘maritime emergencies’ in Ayungin

Chinese and Philippine officials have agreed on the need for closer dialogue to deal with “maritime emergencies” and de-escalate conflict in the South China Sea, including in the hotly contested Second Thomas or Ayungin Shoal, Beijing said.

Manila and Beijing have a long history of maritime territorial disputes in the waterway, but relations sharply deteriorated recently over a series of incidents involving vessels from both countries.

Confrontations were among their most intense around the Second Thomas Shoal, which Beijing calls the Ren’ai Shoal, where Manila has stationed a grounded naval vessel to assert its territorial claims.

Following weeks of tensions, both sides on Wednesday held their 8th Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea in Shanghai, they said in a pair of statements.

Beijing said the two countries held a “candid and in-depth exchange of views” on the situation in the South China Sea, which it claims almost in its entirety despite an international tribunal ruling that its assertions have no legal basis.

Both sides agreed “that maintaining communication and dialogue is essential to maintaining maritime peace and stability,” China’s foreign ministry said in a readout.

And they said they would work to improve their “maritime communication mechanism,” Beijing added, in a bid to “properly handle maritime emergencies, especially the situation on the Ren’ai Shoal.”

Manila, in turn, said the two countries “agreed that continuous dialogue is important to keep peace and stability at sea” and “assured each other of their mutual commitment to avoid escalation of tensions.”

“The two sides had frank and productive discussions to de-escalate the situation in the South China Sea and both sides agreed to calmly deal with incidents, if any, through diplomacy,” its foreign ministry said in a statement.

This month, China held military drills in the South China Sea as the United States and the Philippines conducted their own joint exercises in the same waters.

The drills followed a month of tense standoffs between China and the Philippines in disputed reefs in the area that saw a collision between vessels from the two countries and Chinese ships blasting water cannons at Philippine boats.

In a statement Thursday, the Department of Foreign Affairs said that Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Theresa Lazaro and Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Nong Rong “agreed to calmly deal with incidents, if any, through diplomacy.”

“They also agreed that continuous dialogue is important to keep peace and stability at sea,” the DFA added.

The DFA also said both sides agreed to initiate talks on possible academic exchanges on marine scientific research between Filipino and Chinese scientists. No details were provided on how and where it will be conducted.

The DFA statement also said that both sides during the Shanghai meeting presented their respective positions on the Ayungin Shoal and “assured each other of their mutual commitment to avoid escalation of tensions.”

The United States, a treaty ally of the Philippines, has repeatedly condemned China’s disruption of Philippine resupply missions to Ayungin and for “putting the lives of Filipino service members at risk.”

Washington said that it stands by its 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty commitments with the Philippines if Filipinos come under an armed attack in the disputed waters.

The MDT, a 1951 defense pact signed between Manila and Washington, binds the two allies to come to each other’s aid from aggression and help defend the other party.

Although not a party to the disputes, the US maintained that keeping the South China Sea—a major trade route—open and accessible is within its national interest.

China, which considers the sea disputes a purely Asian issue, is opposed to any foreign intervention, particularly from the US.

Four days before the meeting in Shanghai, President Marcos posted a statement on X congratulating Taiwan leader Lai Ching-te “on his election as Taiwan’s next President”—a move which angered China and prompted Beijing to summon Manila’s top diplomat the following day.

China accused Marcos of violating the One China Policy, but the DFA clarified hours after Marcos’ post that the President’s congratulatory message “was his way of thanking them for hosting our OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) and holding a successful democratic process.”

“Nevertheless, the Philippines reaffirms its One China Policy,” the DFA said.

In deference to this policy, Manila does not have diplomatic ties with Taiwan, a democratic self-ruling island which has been separated from the Chinese mainland since 1949.

But the Philippines maintains a de-facto embassy in Taiwan, called the Manila Economic and Cultural Office or MECO.

Taiwan hosts around 200,000 Filipinos, mostly working in factories.

A vital trading and shipping lane, the South China Sea, dotted with rocks, shoals and reefs where rich oil and mineral deposits were found, is claimed in part or in whole by the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan. Parts of the waters within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone have been renamed West Philippine Sea.

While the Philippines won a landmark case against China’s massive claim in the South China Sea before an arbitral tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, Beijing refused to participate in the arbitration process and doesn’t recognize the ruling. — With AFP

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