March 22, 2023
MANILA — A top Chinese diplomat will arrive in Manila on Wednesday to hold bilateral talks with his Philippine counterpart on managing maritime disputes, in a bid to “ease tensions.”
During a press briefing in Beijing on Monday, Foreign Minister Wang Wenbin announced that Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong would engage in discussions with Foreign Undersecretary Theresa Lazaro.
The 23rd Philippines-China Foreign Ministry Consultation (FMC) and the seventh meeting of the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) on the South China Sea will be held in Manila from Wednesday until Friday, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
Expected on the agenda are ways to address heightened tensions in the West Philippine Sea, with the two envoys having an in-depth communication on “proper handling of maritime disputes” and “advancing practical maritime cooperation,” Wang said.
‘Enhance mutual trust’
According to the Chinese foreign minister, the talks will take off from the “common understandings” reached by Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. during the latter’s state visit to Beijing in January.
“We hope and believe that this round of consultation will help enhance mutual understanding and trust and bring about closer communication and coordination between the two sides, and galvanize joint efforts for the sound and steady growth of bilateral ties,” Wang said.
Marcos’ state visit to China had signaled Manila’s warming ties with Beijing but relations again cooled following a series of unfriendly acts by the latter in the West Philippine Sea, a portion of the South China Sea within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
One incident deemed provocative by the Philippine side involved the China Coast Guard pointing military-grade laser at a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessel off Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal on Feb. 6, well within the country’s EEZ.
In response, the Philippine government condemned China’s “acts of aggression,” which also prompted mention of the country’s mutual defense pact with the United States, Beijing’s rival in the disputed waters.
In 2016, an international arbitration court in The Hague, Netherlands, upheld the Philippines’ sovereign right to fish and explore resources within its EEZ and invalidated China’s sweeping claims on practically the entirety of the South China Sea. Beijing does not recognize the ruling.
In a statement on Monday, the DFA expressed hope that the two events would lead to “confidence-building measures” and an opportunity to improve “mutual trust and confidence” between China and the Philippines.
The two countries “also affirmed the importance of both mechanisms as venues for the Philippines and China to foster cooperation and greater understanding as well as ease tensions,” according to the DFA statement.
Sun’s visit to the Philippines follows after the departure of USS America on Tuesday.