THE Philippines and China will set up a bilateral consultative mechanism this year to settle sensitive issues, including the dispute in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Philippine Ambassador-designate to China Jose Santiago “Chito” Sta. Romana said the schedule of the meetings was under discussion and that the commencement of talks would be announced soon.
The bilateral consultation mechanism was part of the agreement between the Philippines and China during President Rodrigo Duterte’s state visit in Beijing in October 2016.
Sta. Romana said the mechanism would allow the creation of a group to discuss the sea row separately, and de-link the dispute from other aspects of bilateral relations such as economics, finance, culture, education and sports.
“The dispute will not serve as an obstacle in terms of developing the relations. We will separate it so that we grow on separate track,” he said during the “Tapatan sa The Aristocrat” forum in Manila on Monday.
Under Duterte’s China policy, the government will implement a two-track approach, separating contentious issues from non-contentious ones, which means proceeding with non-contentious issues while discussing contentious issues one by one with the use of quiet diplomacy.
The envoy admitted that the dispute won’t be resolved right away but tensions could still be diffused and managed properly.
“Economic cooperation will be the main driver of bilateral relations. The disputes will still be there and we will discuss it and deal with it,” Sta. Romana said. “But the point is, we will also be realistic that it may take time.”
He maintained that the Philippines will honor the July 2016 arbitral award on the country’s maritime entitlements in the West Philippine Sea, as a state party to the United Nations Charter and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
“The arbitral ruling is the subject of intense interest on both sides. The Philippine side’s position as articulated by the President is to maintain it, defend it and uphold it. The Chinese of course don’t accept it, so there’s a difference of opinion. And there’s a problem because there’s no enforcement mechanism. If you want to force it, it will lead to the road of confrontation,” he said.
The July 2016 ruling from The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidated China’s excessive claims over almost the whole of South China Sea based on the “nine-dash” demarcation line.
Areas in the South China Sea are also partly claimed by Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei.