P​H, China vow UNCLOS​ compliance, seek Indo-Pacific stability

The Philippines and China have agreed to adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific as both countries find ways to settle their differences amid their maritime row.

Manila and Beijing expressed their commitment as ranking diplomats of both sides concluded on Friday the consultative discussions on the South China Sea.

Under UNCLOS, a country's exclusive economic zone generally extends to 200 nautical miles from its shore, within which the coastal state has the right to explore and exploit, and the responsibility to conserve and manage, both living and non-living resources.

UNCLOS was the basis of the 2016 Arbitral Ruling that turned in favor of the Philippines in its claim over the West Philippine Sea, a part of the bigger South China Sea.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Friday night the two governments also recognized their obligations under the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea—an agreement that ensures the freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful settlement of disputes and self-restraint in the conduct of activities.

It added that Manila and Beijing stressed their resolve to finalize an effective and substantive Code of Conduct (COC).

To date, there is still no COC between Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) claimant-states and China, a decade since an attempt to craft one has started. Five ASEAN members have claims over the South China Sea.

"The two sides also discussed their respective positions on the 2016 Arbitral Award on the South China Sea, alongside the different incidents at sea monitored since 2021," DFA said.

DFA Undersecretary for Bilateral Relations Ma. Theresa Lazaro said Manila is looking forward to the time when there will no longer be any reports of maritime incidents between the two countries.

Lazaro said the government, which has the legal rights over the West Philippine Sea that China also claims to be its own, hoped that the two governments would rather focus on "mutually beneficial endeavors."

"I cannot overemphasize that this should start with restraint from aggressive acts," the diplomat said at the conclusion of the 7th Bilateral Consultative Mechanism (BCM), the last of the two Philippine-China diplomatic meetings set in Manila.

The two-day sessions were closed to media coverage, except during the delivery of opening remarks.

But DFA disclosed that both sides "discussed ways to further practical maritime cooperation, such as revisiting the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding on Establishing the Joint Coast Guard Committee and the convening of the Annual Defense Security Talks."

"The Philippines and China also discussed new initiatives, including training and capacity building on aquaculture and marine environment cooperation," added the agency, which noted that the two sides "agreed on the convening of other bilateral mechanisms, including the Joint Committee on Fisheries, at an early date."

On Thursday, Lazaro started chairing with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong the rounds of talks, which opened with discussions on Philippine-China bilateral relations or the 23rd Philippines-China Foreign Ministry Consultations (FMC).

The conduct of the BCM, a confidence-building measure that tackles maritime issues, including the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea, followed the next day.

In an earlier pronouncement, Lazaro asserted that the maritime row "should be addressed through diplomacy and dialogue, and never through coercion and intimidation."

This came as China is accused of conducting gray zone operations—or activities short of being called as war—in the West Philippine Sea by deploying its vessels and militia as well as pointing military-grade laser at Filipino forces, among others.