MANILA (UPDATED) — China is ready to work with and engage the Philippines in a dialogue to maintain peace and stability in the region, stressing that the South China Sea disputes should not negatively affect their relations, one of its ministers said Sunday.
China hopes it can continue discussions with the Philippines and demonstrate “flexibility” to pursue oil and gas explorations in the South China Sea and overcome legal obstacles, visiting Minister Liu Jianchao of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (IDCPC) told reporters.
“Seems that there are some legal barrier[s] or legal factors that are standing in the way of final consensus. I hope that both sides will move about this issue in a way that is feasible, in a way that [is] practical so that the cooperation could be continued, could be realized,” said Liu, who served as Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines from 2009 to 2011.
“I hope that the discussions will continue. I hope both sides will demonstrate some kind of flexibility… without prejudicing each other’s claims, of their own positions so that the cooperation could happen,” he said.
The Duterte administration canceled talks on oil and gas exploration with China, citing Constitutional limits.
But China is expecting closer cooperation and even usher in a “golden era” of relations with the Philippines under the Marcos administration. It expressed readiness to assist the Philippines in the following priority areas of cooperation: agriculture, infrastructure, energy, and people-to-people relations.
In a statement Tuesday, the Department of Foreign Affairs said it is acknowledging the statement of Liu, "specifically his recognition that there are significant legal issues that must be considered before joint oil and gas exploration can proceed."
"As it has always been, the Department is guided by the Constitution on the exploration, development and utilization of natural resources located within the exclusive economic zone, continental shelf and jurisdiction of the Philippines," it said.
To guide the legal process, the DFA also welcomed the appointment of former Chief Justices Artemio V. Panganiban and Reynato S. Puno as the co-chairs of the energy department's Law and Energy Advisory Panel.
"The Department looks forward to working with the DOE on a way that is anchored in the Constitution and with the protection and promotion of Philippine national interests as the paramount consideration."
Liu said China has been approached by the Philippine side for assistance on agriculture and fertilizers and that both sides will conduct consultations on the matter.
On energy, he said China is ready to work with the Philippines in developing hydropower, nuclear power, solar, and wind energy.
He also proposed stronger collaboration with the Philippines in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and latest initiatives launched by President Xi Jinping such as the Global Development Initiative and Global Security Initiative.
While in Manila, Liu met with Philippine officials including Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo and House Speaker Martin Romualdez.
Liu said the South China Sea was not a dominant topic in his talks with Manalo, focusing instead on how to strengthen cooperation in various areas and how China can assist.
Liu also expressed appreciation for the Philippines’ reiteration of its “One China Policy” after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan.
Liu hopes that the Philippines will proceed with projects with China, saying “strong will” is needed to carry on what has been discussed.
“I hope that the two sides will have a serious, pragmatic, and reasonable discussions and consultations on these projects so once agreed upon, once consensus is reached, the projects will be carried forward,” he said.
“We just don’t want to spend too much time discussing and discussing and discussing on whether it is feasible or a feasible project or (if it) is too costly or less costly because in the early stages of consultations, all these were agreed upon,” he said.
“So then, I think, we can have a good mechanism for both sides to reach consensus on all the details, factors, and elements that are needed in finalizing the project.”
Liu said China is ready to welcome Marcos for a visit to China at a convenient date.