Maritime cooperation, security initialed in Philippine-China meeting

By Audrey Morallo

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The Philippines and China have initialed the terms of reference for joint maritime security and cooperation at a meeting in southern China. US Navy/File photo

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine and Chinese delegations initialed the terms of reference (TOR) that would be a platform for confidence-building measures to promote maritime cooperation and security, a joint press release from a meeting meant to manage disputes in the South China Sea said on Friday.

The statement said that both sides had a frank, in-depth and friendly exchange of views on the issues related to the South China Sea as they both reiterated their commitment to cooperate and find ways to strengthen mutual trust and confidence.

The Philippine delegation to the bilateral consultation mechanism (BCM) held in Guiyang, Guizhou Province, China on Friday was led by Ambassador Jose Santiago Sta. Romana while the Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Liu Zhenmin was the head of the party from Beijing.

The two parties exchanged views on the importance of addressing South China Sea issues, incidents and disputes in “an appropriate manner,” the statement said.  

This action was consistent with an October 2016 joint statement where both sides reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, stability, freedom of navigation in and over-flight over the South China Sea without resorting to violence, in accordance with the charter of the United Nations and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The joint statement also said that the bilateral consultation mechanism was useful to manage the issues in the South China Sea and to explore other areas of cooperation.

“During the meeting, the Heads of Delegation initialed the TOR which they agreed should be a platform for confidence-building measures and for promoting maritime cooperation and maritime security. The BCM will comprise 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,” the statement said.

The two sides also exchanged views on current and other issues of concern as well as approaches to deal with these problems.

“Both sides reviewed their experiences on the South China Sea issue. They exchanged views on current and other issues of concern to either side, and agreed to further discuss mutually acceptable approaches to deal with them,” the statement said, adding that discussions also tackled the next steps for practical marine cooperation and the possible forming of technical working groups.

The experiences of both parties to the South China Sea issue were also reviewed, according to the press release.

The establishment of the BCM and the consensus on the terms of reference were decided during the diplomatic consultations between the two countries’ ministries of foreign affairs in January 2017.

The next meeting of the BCM will be held in the Philippines in the second half of 2017. The exact date and place are yet to be threshed out by the diplomats from both sides.

The Philippines and China are locked in a dispute in South China Sea where around US$5 billion worth of trade passes through. Aside from the two, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims in the region.

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