'Friendly consultations' way to handle maritime disputes, China says

Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 12 2022 03:57 PM

MANILA -- China on Monday reiterated its call for “friendly consultations” as a way to properly handle the South China Sea disputes so that Phiippine-China relations “will not be affected.”

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian echoed this message of Chinese President Xi Jinping to President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. when the two leaders met in Bangkok last month, saying the two countries should seek peaceful solutions in addressing maritime disputes through dialogue.

“We need to properly handle differences to remove interference from China-Philippines relations,” Huang said during his keynote message at a symposium of Philippine-China relations organized by the Ateneo Chinese Studies Program and Center for Philippine Studies of Jinan University.

“China’s position on the South China Sea has been clear and consistent and we have always maintained that we should place our differences in the proper place in our overall relations and seek peaceful solution through friendly consultations so that our overall relations will not be affected,” Huang continued. 

Huang said China is ready to elevate its level of cooperation with the Philippines and enhance practical cooperation, welcoming the country as as an “important partner” in pursuing China’s modernization and share China’s huge market, benefitting the two peoples.

Huang is optimistic of closer economic and trade relations between the two nations, saying China is ready to diversify agricultural products that enter the Chinese market, as well as big data, e-infrastructure, internet of things, and renewable energy. 

“With the huge potential of the Chinese market, I believe that fresh Philippine durian will soon reach the dining table in Chinese households and Filipinos will share the opportunities and benefits of China’s development."

"We also look forward to diversifying the quality agriciultural products from the Philippines that will enter China’s (market),” Huang said.

Huang said people-to-people ties must be strengthened “to keep China-Philippines relations as friendly as ever,” welcoming that the videos of Vice President Sara Duterte and First Lady Liza Marcos have gone viral that he said triggered interest in learning Chinese. 

“I’m glad that the short video of Vice President Sara Duterte and Madame First Lady Liza Marcos speaking Chinese went viral on social media just recently, triggering a growing interest in learning Chinese in the Philippines,” Huang said.

He recalled that since former President Duterte took office, China and the Philippines “have reengaged in dialogue and consultations to handle differences properly,” with practical cooperation in economy, trade, infrastructure, COVID response and people-to-people exchanges have been “flourishing” bringing “tangible benefits to the two peoples.”

Meanwhile, in his keynote message, DFA Assistant Secretary for Asia and Pacific Affairs Nathaniel Imperial admitted “there is much work to be done to forge a much stronger relationship with China,” saying that while the maritime issues do not make up the totality of relations, they influence bilateral ties. 

“Although maritime issues do not constitute the totality of Philippine-China relations, they are nevertheless a critical matter that influences our bilateral cooperation and are considered of vital importance by most Filipinos,” Imperial said.

“The Philippine position on the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea dispute is firmly anchored on the twin pillars of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 arbitral award on the South China Sea," he noted.

"We have tried to address with goodwill and an open mind our complex bilateral issues, respect and relationship is a two-way process and this is the core of our work in the Department of Foreign Affairs… and admittedly there is much work to be done to forge a much stronger relationship with China.”

Imperial said the Marcos administration is “keen” on building on the gains of predecessors in cultivating relations, citing the forthcoming state visit of Marcos to China in early January 2023, including a meeting with Xi, marking Marcos’ “first bilateral visit to a non-ASEAN country” and first visit to China as president.

“This signifies the importance given by the administration to China as a bilateral partner by the current administration… The inaugural visit will reaffirm our cordial bilateral ties and set the tone of relations for the next five to six years."

"As (both) of our leaders received a new mandate as leaders of each respective country, it will be an opportune time for them to chart the direction of bilateral relations during their terms of office,” Imperial said. 

Reviewing the history of relations, Imperial said Philippine-China relations “flourished” in recent times “especially after 2016” with the two countries’ leaders exchanging in high-level exchanges paving the way for engagements in all aspects of the relations, especially in agriculture, infrastructure, energy, investments, among others.

He looks forward to restoring regular people-to-people exchanges as China opens its doors for a “more stable” Philippine-China relationship, aside from growing trade and political ties.

“Stable and thriving relationship with the People’s Republic of China is therefore of the utmost importance for the Philippines. This relationship must be one that is beneficial to both our peoples and it should be based on mutual trust and respect,” Imperial said.