MANILA (UPDATE)– Tensions between the Philippines and China regarding Chinese intrusions in the West Philippine Sea remain a serious concern that must be addressed through diplomatic means, a senior Philippine diplomat said Friday.
"Maritime issues continue to remain a serious concern to the Filipino people," Foreign Undersecretary Theresa Lazaro said during the 7th Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) on the South China Sea in Manila.
"Both of our countries' leaders agreed that maritime issues should be addressed through diplomacy and dialogue and never through coercion and intimidation," she added.
Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, including the Spratlys, ignoring an international ruling that its claims have no legal basis.
In the past decade, it has ripped up thousands of hectares of reef in the archipelago to create militarized islands with runways, ports and radar systems.
To assert its claims, hundreds of Chinese coast guard and maritime militia vessels patrol the waters, swarming reefs, harassing and attacking fishing and other boats.
The Philippine Coast Guard earlier admitted that not all incidents of Chinese incursions in the Philippines were reported to the public, including the first alleged laser-flashing incident involving BRP Habagat in June last year.
During the consultation, Lazaro noted both sides aimed to implement the consensus reached between Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Chinese President Xi Jinping during Marcos' state visit to China in January.
"We may recall that during the state visit, both leaders agreed to strengthen diplomatic channels and existing dialog mechanisms, especially in terms of maritime issues," Lazaro said.
She stated that the Philippines "looks forward to a time that the news would no longer report on Philippines-China maritime incidents, but instead focus on mutually beneficial endeavors."
" I cannot overemphasize that this should start with restraint from aggressive acts," she stressed.
For his part, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong also reiterated the leaders’ agreement to work together to resolve differences and issues through "friendly consultations."
"Maritime issues are an important part of China-Philippines relations that should not be ignored," Sun said.
"Maritime issues are not the entirety of Philippines-China relations and we should not allow specific differences to define our bilateral relations or allow certain disputes to stand in the way of overall cooperation. We need to properly deal with these issues through friendly consultations," he added.
Meanwhile, the two sides also discussed economic partnerships during Thursday's 23rd Philippines-China Foreign Ministry Consultations.
Lazaro said the Philippines is keen to work with China on infrastructure.
"Finishing identified infrastructure projects quickly would be important for the Philippine-Chinese cooperation," she said.
The Filipina diplomat also said the country would like to see China invest more, especially in agribusiness, renewable energy, electric vehicles, and electronic manufacturing.
In terms of tourism, Lazaro asked China for more tourists.
"We want to see the return of Chinese tourists to the Philippines to pre-pandemic levels as travel opens up," she said.
According to the DFA, the BCM is a confidence-building measure that tackles maritime issues, including the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea, marine environmental protection and fisheries cooperation, among others. The last BCM was held in 2021, it said.