MANILA - The Philippines and China have reaffirmed their commitment to peacefully resolving the South China Sea dispute as they agreed to boost joint efforts in exploring the waters.
Just as in the first round of talks last year, Manila and Beijing said they are both committed to resolving the dispute through "friendly consultations and negotiations."
"...Both sides reaffirmed that contentious maritime issues are not the sum total of the Philippines-China bilateral relationship," the countries said in a joint statement released Tuesday.
This amid the Philippines recent decision to revoke the permission it gave China to explore the resource-rich Philippine Rise (Benham Rise) and recent reports of the latter's continued militarization of the South China Sea.
The two countries also expressed interest in beginning negotiations on a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea next month.
Representatives of the two countries agreed to continue exercising self-restraint in the conduct of activities in the disputed waters that "would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability."
"With the objective of maintaining and promoting peace and stability in the region, both sides discussed ways to manage and prevent incidents at sea, promote dialogue and cooperation on maritime issues, and enhance mutual trust and confidence," the statement read.
There was also a "productive exchange of views" on how to boost cooperation in marine environmental protection, fisheries, marine scientific research, and oil and gas in the disputed waters.
"There were intensive discussions on mutually beneficial joint initiatives and consensus on the convening of technical working groups in the areas of fisheries, oil and gas, marine scientific research and marine environmental protection, and political security, in the framework of the BCM (Bilateral Consultative Mechanism)," the statement read.
Manila and Beijing are set to meet for the third round of talks in China during the latter part of the year.
The two sides pursued regular consultations even as Beijing continued to ignore an international tribunal's July 2016 ruling that invalidated its claim over nearly all of South China Sea, acting on a Philippine case initiated under the Aquino administration.
Ties between the Philippines and China have seen a turnaround since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office, as he pursued a more diplomatic approach to resolving the sea dispute while engaging the Chinese in closer trade ties.