The Philippine and Chinese governments have reached an agreement to exercise “self-restraint” on activities that may escalate the tensions in the highly disputed South China Sea.
This comes amid reports of China’s continuous military build up in the region.
“Both sides agreed to continue discussions on confidence-building measures to increase mutual trust and confidence and to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities in the South China Sea that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability,” their joint statement read.
On Tuesday, February 13, the Philippines and China convened the Second Meeting of the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea (BCM) in Manila.
Both sides said they had a “frank, cordial exchange of views” on issues concerning the sea row, and had discussed “ways to manage and prevent incidents at sea, promote dialogue and cooperation on maritime issues, and enhance mutual trust and confidence.”
The Philippines and China also reiterated their “commitment to the full and effective implementation” of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.
The negotiations on a Code of Conduct (COC) on the region is set to begin early next month.
Both sides also said that they had a “productive exchange on ways to strengthen cooperation” in different areas such as marine environmental protection, fisheries, marine scientific research, and oil and gas, “without prejudice to their respective positions on sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction.”
“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,” the statement added.
A newspaper report last week showed that the continuous developments of Beijing’s artificial islands in the heavily disputed waters are nearing their completion.
Malacañang earlier dismissed China’s military buildup in the area as something that is not “news” anymore, as it noted that the Philippines cannot wage war and could only continue to rely on China’s “good faith.”
But on Monday, February 12, Malacañang said that it had “protested not only the building of islands but also the alleged ‘militarization’ of the islands.”
“The Philippine government has consistently filed protest. And even during the term of President [Rodrigo] Duterte, we have filed protest,” Palace Spokesperson Harry Roque said.
He added, “[This is] in response to claims that we are not doing anything. We are doing what the government has deemed best to be done.”