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PH, China start two-day bilateral talks amid maritime tensions

Officials from the Philippines and China met on Thursday for the 23rd Philippine-China Foreign Ministry Consultation (FMC) and 7th Bilateral Consultative Mechanism (BCM) on the South China Sea.

The meeting, held in Manila, sought to  highlight the goodwill between the Philippines and China amid tensions caused by overlapping claims in the South China Sea.

Among those present were Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Bilateral Relations and ASEAN Affairs Maria Theresa Lazaro and China's Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong.

Also joining the meeting were Philippine Ambassador to China Jaime FlorCruz and Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian.

In her opening remarks, Lazaro, without elaborating, said she had communicated with Sun weeks ago regarding "maritime issues."

"I note that we have spoken already through our communication mechanism for, on maritime issues and I appreciate the brief and candid exchange we had some weeks ago," Lazaro said.

To recall, the Philippine government filed a diplomatic protest or note verbale against China in February after a Chinese coast guard vessel pointed a laser at the Philippine ship off Ayungin Shoal.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs and the Armed Forces of the Philippines have released statements of protest about the continued presence of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea and within the country's exclusive economic zone.

The BCM was established between China and the Philippines in 2016 following then-President Rodrigo Duterte's first state visit to China where he held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping to resolve the various tensions in the South China Sea.

During the meeting, Sun did not delve into details regarding the issues that the Philippines is currently raising in connection with the West Philippine Sea.

However, he emphasized that China and the Philippines, despite their differences, should talk like friends in accordance with the consensus reached by President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. and President Xi during their meeting in Beijing in January.

"Their consensus has pointed the direction we need to make efforts in, and we need to comprehensively deepen our comprehensive strategic cooperation and enhance our cooperation in various practical areas and properly deal with our differences through a friendly consultation, and we need to keep the general directions of our friendly relations between our two countries," Sun said.

The Chinese official also said in the midst of the fast-changing international landscape, China is ready to cooperate with neighbor countries, including the Philippines, "to enhance our solidarity and cooperation communication and coordination for our shared interest and peace and stability in the region."

Both countries will release statements at the end of the BCM on Friday. —KBK, GMA Integrated News