Philippines, China convene mechanism to ease tensions, explore cooperation in South China Sea


PASAY CITY, May 23 — After a long postponement, the Philippines and China convened the sixth meeting of the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea (BCM) virtually on 21 May 2021. This year’s meeting was hosted by the Philippines.

The BCM is a bilateral forum established by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and President Xi Jinping during their 2016 meeting. It was envisioned as a platform for dialogue on the expanding bilateral relationship between the Philippines and China. It has served as a confidence-building process for both sides to manage and address differences, to promote practical maritime cooperation and environmental protection, and to enhance mutual trust and confidence.

Foreign Affairs Acting Undersecretary for Bilateral Relations and ASEAN Affairs Elizabeth P. Buensuceso and Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Wu Jianghao led their respective delegations. The Philippine delegation included officials from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), National Security Council (NSC), Department of National Defense (DND), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Department of Justice DOJ), National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA), National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) and other key agencies.

The two sides had friendly and candid exchanges on the general situation and specific issues of concern in the South China Sea. There was mutual recognition of the importance of dialogue in easing tensions and understanding each country’s position and intentions in the area. Both sides acknowledged the importance of addressing differences in an atmosphere of openness and cordiality to pave the way for practical cooperation and initiatives. The Philippines reiterated its long-standing call for full respect and adherence to international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and its authoritative interpretation and application – the final and binding 2016 South China Sea Arbitral Award.

The Philippines highlighted the progress made in the settlement of the Gem-Ver allision issue involving a Philippine fishing boat and a Chinese vessel. The Philippine Department of Justice will take the lead in seeking just compensation for the victims in negotiations to be held next month.

Encouraged by the positive momentum in the bilateral relations of the two countries, the three working groups of the BCM (political-security, fisheries cooperation, and marine environmental protection/marine scientific research) tackled common issues and possible areas of cooperation.

Undersecretary Buensuceso stressed the importance of other complementary bilateral and multilateral platforms in maintaining regional peace and stability such as the ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations, the ASEAN Regional Forum, and the East Asia Summit. Both sides reiterated the importance of the full and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), and their commitment to the early conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC). The Philippines currently serves as Country Coordinator of the ASEAN-China dialogue mechanism. (DFA)