Cayetano: China agrees no new construction on uninhabited sea features
MANILA - The Philippines has reaffirmed its commitment to protecting its claims in the South China Sea even as it agreed with China to "cooperate and properly manage issues of mutual concern" to prevent incidents in the disputed waters.
This amid Beijing's continuous militarization in the South China Sea, with recent reports indicating that it had nearly completed fortifying artificial islands it built in the waters.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano on Wednesday said Manila affirmed its stance on the maritime dispute during Tuesday's meeting, the second round of the Philippines-China Bilateral Consultation.
"The Duterte Administration is unwavering in its commitment to protect our country’s territorial claims and maritime entitlements," Cayetano said in a statement.
During the meeting, the Philippines "brought up our territorial claims and sovereignty rights issues, and discussed how to manage and prevent incidents on the ground."
"Both sides expressed their countries’ respective positions on the ongoing territorial disputes. While there are points of disagreement, both delegations are in agreement that the best way forward is to cooperate and properly manage issues of mutual concern and preserve security and stability in the region," the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a news release.
China, according to Cayetano, has also committed not to build on uninhabited features in accordance with the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties on the South China Sea.
This despite Beijing's construction of military installations in the 7 reefs claimed by Manila in the Spratlys archipelago as revealed by a Philippine Daily Inquirer report, which released close-up images of the artificial islands.
Observers said the militarization is part of China’s bid to cement its control over the contested waters. Other countries have expressed concern on the implication of such fortification on freedom of navigation in the vital trade route.
Other developments Cayetano cited were the open access of Filipino fishermen to areas in dispute, and measures to protect the environment and marine ecosystem.
Cayetano further stressed that there are ongoing talks and continuous diplomatic action being undertaken to protect the interests of the Philippines in the South China Sea.
"Just because we are not in an open shouting match with China, or arguing in public, doesn’t mean that the issues aren’t being dealt with decisively. On the contrary, we are not only exerting efforts but also getting things done," Cayetano said.
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 initiated regular consultations last year 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.
Earlier, China agreed to begin negotiations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on a code of conduct that would govern the waters.
Claimant countries Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei are members of the ASEAN.