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DFA chief Cayetano off to Beijing for cooperation, sea row talks

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano left for Beijing on Tuesday for talks with Chinese officials on several possible joint initiatives and to address lingering disputes between the two Asian neighbors in the South China Sea.

Cayetano said he was invited by Foreign Minister Wang Yi and would be in China from March 21 to 23.

Some South China Sea “irritants” were among the key issues that would be discussed during the meeting with his Chinese counterpart, as well as trade, agriculture, infrastructure development, counter-terrorism cooperation, and other regional concerns.

“The overlying reason is strengthening of relations and as we have agreed with them, we will put our dispute to one side and grow the relationship on other aspects,” Cayetano said in a press conference before departing for China.

“We will discuss broad areas of collaboration and cooperation and always make it a point to talk about our differences, of our dispute in the South China Sea,” he said. “But we talk about it in the context of how we can improve our situation.”

Joint exploration

There would also be “continuing discussions” on the proposed joint exploration with China in the South China Sea, he added.

The Philippine and China earlier agreed in a meeting in Manila on several confidence-building measures, which included the possibility of conducting several joint initiatives in the resource waters, which include oil and gas cooperation and marine scientific research.

Such activities, the two sides agreed, would be conducted “without prejudice to their respective positions on sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction.”

Cayetano emphasized that any planned energy-exploration deal with rival South China Sea claimant China would comply with the Philippine Constitution and international laws.

“We have to find a legal framework that will pass the Philippine Constitution and that will also be acceptable to the Chinese people and Chinese leadership where we can jointly explore areas where there is a dispute in the South China Sea,” Cayetano said.

The resource-rich South China Sea, a chain of more than 100 islands, shoals, reefs and coral outcrops, straddles one of the world’s most vital sea lanes. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan are also claimants to the South China Sea.

China has long frowned on any discussion of the disputes in multilateral arenas like the ASEAN, demanding instead for a bilateral negotiation.

Relations between Manila and Beijing have improved under President Rodrigo Duterte, who has sought Chinese trade and economic aid while shelving long-running territorial disputes, including an arbitral tribunal case won by the country but rejected by China. — DVM, GMA News