MANILA − The next major, formal negotiations between Manila and Beijing to resolve lingering territorial disputes in the South China Sea will be held early next year, the Philippine ambassador to China said Saturday.
Ambassador Jose Santiago Sta. Romana, on the sidelines of a forum in Manila, said the two sides are hoping that the next bilateral consultative meeting will happen in the first quarter of 2018 somewhere in the Philippines and that arrangements are currently under way.
"Both sides are discussing when to hold the second one, and the original plan was to hold it in December, but there are some scheduling problems," Sta. Romana said, citing that the discussions will still be held at the undersecretary level.
In May this year, the two sides held the first meeting of China-Philippines Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea in Guiyang, Guizhou Province. Senior diplomats from both sides met to discuss sensitive issues on the matter.
"There are differences but the first step in trying to understand or resolve this, is to know where each side is coming from," Sta. Romana added.
The conflicting territorial claims between the two countries stem from China's sweeping claims to the South China Sea, parts of which are being claimed by several other nations including the Philippines.
In 2013, then Philippine President Benigno Aquino III took its case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. Although the U.N.-backed court ruled in Manila's favor by invalidating China's claims, Beijing has rejected the decision.
But with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte taking office in July 2016, negotiations resumed after he chose to set aside the ruling indefinitely in favor of a less adversarial stance.
Duterte's policy direction has since led to the lifting of importation restrictions previously slapped by Beijing, as well as pledges of billions of dollars of loans and grants from China to finance his administration's infrastructure plans.