The Philippines has reiterated its stance that disputes in the West Philippine Sea should be resolved through diplomatic and peaceful communication instead of force or coercion.
At the 7th Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea on Friday, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Theresa Lazaro said that while the Philippines agrees West Philippine Sea issue is not the entire relationship between Manila and Beijing, it remains a serious concern for many Filipinos that needs to be resolved.
“However, maritime issues continue to remain a serious concern to the Filipino people. Additionally, both our countries' leaders agreed that maritime issues should be addressed through diplomacy and dialogue and never through coercion and intimidation,” said Lazaro, who represented the Philippines in the 7th BCM with China.
She added the Philippine government intends to discuss “in a frank manner” issues of concern and will endeavor to identify mutually acceptable approaches towards addressing these issues at the meeting.
Last February, the Philippine Coast Guard was hit by a military-grade laser from the China Coast Guard in Ayungin Shoal, which is located within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone and part of the West Philippine Sea.
The Chinese Embassy said they were only measuring the distance of the boat and did not use a military-grade laser. This incident prompted the Philippines to file a new protest against China.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong did not give a direct response to Lazaro’s coercion claims, but he stated that China and the Philippines must focus and adhere to their promise to be good neighbors, deepen cooperation, mutual understanding, and trust.
“China and the Philippines are both neighbors and partners and our two countries need to stay committed to good neighborliness, deepen mutually beneficial cooperation, enhance mutual understanding and trust. We believe it is the only right path for us to develop bilateral relations,” Sun said.
Sun added that maritime disputes should not hinder cooperation between the two countries, stating that “maritime issues are not the entirety of China-Philippine relations, and we should not allow specific differences to define our bilateral relations.”
During the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte in 2017, the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) was established between China and the Philippines.
The BCM served as a way for both nations to discuss the disagreements that emerged in the South China Sea, especially with China’s resistance to the UN Arbitral Tribunal’s decision that deemed their claims to the West Philippine Sea illegal.
The Philippines refers to portions of the South China Sea as West Philippine Sea. — RSJ, GMA Integrated News