By The Philippine News Agency
The Philippines and China have reaffirmed commitment to the principle of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea during their third bilateral consultation mechanism (BCM) meeting, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Thursday night..
“Believing that the proper management of disputes in the South China Sea is vital in safeguarding regional peace and stability, both sides reaffirmed their commitment to the principles of freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea, freedom of international commerce and other peaceful uses of the sea,” the agency, through DFA Assistant Secretary Elmer Cato said.
However, it did not indicate whether military vessels and aircrafts were covered in this reaffirmation.
Recently, a Chinese and a US destroyer had a close encounter near a Chinese artificial island at the Kalayaan Island Group after the latter conducted a freedom of navigation operation in the area.
Reacting on this earlier, former DFA Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano advised a “heart-to-heart” talk between the two superpowers, as he noted that the definition of freedom of navigation operations varies from state to state, particularly when the ship involved is that of the military.
The third BCM was convened on Oct. 18 in Beijing, with Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Enrique Manalo and Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou as the Philippine and Chinese heads of delegation, respectively.
The Third Meeting of the BCM comprised equivalent officials from the respective foreign ministries and relevant agencies.
During the talks, the two parties also agreed to address its territorial disputes through “friendly consultations and negotiations” by sovereign states directly concerned.
In managing the rival claims in the region, the two sides agreed “to cooperate and to continue to find ways forward to strengthen” mutual trust and confidence.
But referring to the Joint Statement issued on Nov. 16, 2017, Beijing and Manila reiterated that the contentious maritime issues are “not the sum total of the China-Philippines relations.”
Without prejudice to their respective positions on sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction, the DFA said both sides also discussed possible cooperation on joint exploration and development of maritime oil and gas.
The 4th meeting of the BCM will be held in the Philippines in the first half of 2019. The exact date and place will be determined and mutually agreed upon through diplomatic channels.