PH, China agree to exercise self-restraint at sea

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 21 2018 06:40 PM

PH, China agree to exercise self-restraint at sea 1
President Rodrigo Duterte and China's President Xi Jinping shake hands after a joint news statement at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, Philippines, November 20, 2018. Mark Cristino/Pool via Reuters

MANILA - The Philippines and China have agreed to exercise self-restraint in the hotly contested South China Sea, as the two maritime rivals ease tension under Beijing-friendly Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte on Tuesday welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping in Malacañang for a two-day state visit aimed at further improving the two nations’ ties that had been strained by the bitter maritime dispute.

In his statement after a closed-door meeting with Duterte, Xi vowed to “manage contentious issues and promote maritime cooperation through friendly consultation,” as he noted that the two Asian neighbors “have a lot of common interests in the South China Sea.”

In a joint statement released a day after the historic meeting, the two countries vowed to avoid actions that would “complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.”

“Both sides also note the importance of confidence-building measures to increase mutual trust and confidence," the joint statement reads.

The Philippines and China agreed that contentious issues are not the sum total of their bilateral relations and should not exclude mutually beneficial cooperation in other issues.

“Both sides also reaffirm the importance of maintaining and promoting regional peace and stability, freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea,” the statement reads.

They also committed to address disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations and the 1982 UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea).

The Philippines and China affirmed the importance of the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea and the Maritime Cooperation Joint Committee between the two Coast Guards.

The two sides also agreed to maximize and strengthen the ongoing coast guard, defense and military dialogue and liaison mechanisms, with a view to facilitating quick responses to situations on the ground and contributing to the enhancement of mutual trust and confidence between their coast guard and defense agencies.

China is claiming nearly all of the resource-rich South China Sea, conflicting with partial claims of the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan.

It has ignored a July 2016 ruling of a United Nations-backed panel that invalidated its assertion of sovereignty over the waters in response to a Philippine plea.

Duterte has set aside this ruling as he sought to repair ties between Manila and China. 

Vocal rival claimants such as Vietnam and Taiwan, as well Pacific power United States, have lambasted China’s island building in the strategic waterway. China brushes off any criticism to its militarization of the sea, saying it has indisputable sovereignty over the area.

China has also drawn criticism for the harassment of Filipino fishermen even in areas falling within the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.