MANILA- The Philippines and China have agreed to pursue “confidence-building” measures and "identify mutually acceptable approaches" towards resolving the South China Sea dispute as the two sides held the inaugural meet under the newly forged Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM).
In its terms of reference released Friday, the consultative body said the two countries would use the BCM to promote maritime cooperation and security in the disputed waters, as had been agreed following President Rodrigo Duterte's visit to Beijing last year.
The bilateral talks began just as the Philippines and China mended relations long-frayed by the dispute.
“The BCM will serve as a platform for confidence-building measures and for promoting maritime cooperation and maritime security,” read the BCM statement following initial talks in Guiyang, China.
"The BCM will meet to discuss issues of concern to either side and cooperation in the South China Sea, and where possible, identify mutually acceptable approaches towards addressing these issues, including cooperation programs and projects," the BCM said in a statement.
It said the the body would hold regular talks "without prejudice to the work of any other bilateral and multilateral mechanism dealing with issues concerning the South China Sea.”
Succeeding meetings will be alternately held in Manila and Beijing every six months on mutually agreed dates. Special meetings may also be held as the need arises, and upon mutual agreement of both parties.
Both countries will be represented by an equivalent number of officials of their respective foreign affairs ministries responsible for maritime affairs. A report of each meeting will also be agreed upon by both parties.
The BCM may also establish a technical and working group if necessary.
Ties between Manila and Beijing have seen a revival as Duterte pursued an independent foreign policy, steering the Philippines closer to non-traditional allies such as China and Russia. This while deviating from the country's long-standing ties with the United States.
Earlier this week, China expressed openness to Duterte's approach for active dialogue and cooperation in handling the maritime dispute.
Duterte had reached a consensus with his counterpart, Chinese President Xi Jinping, over how to handle the dispute, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying previously said.
The Chinese president met with his Philippine counterpart on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.
Talks between Manila and Beijing began just as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China agreed on a framework for a binding code of conduct to govern the disputed waters, a breakthrough reached 15 years since agreeing to craft the pact.
-with a report from Reuters