The Department of Foreign Affairs on Friday acknowledged that maritime issues, especially in the West Philippine Sea, “continue to remain a serious concern for the Filipino people.”
This was what Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Bilateral Relations and ASEAN Affairs Ma. Theresa Lazaro told Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong during the second round of the Philippines-China consultative meetings in Manila on Friday.
Lazaro raised this concern as Manila and Beijing are also “in agreement that maritime issues do not comprise the totality of bilateral relations between our two countries.”
Nonetheless, the DFA official believes such issues “should be addressed through diplomacy and dialogue and never through coercion and intimidation,” as agreed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and President Xi Jinping.
“The meeting today is an attempt to follow through on that decision.
The BCM (Bilateral Consultations Mechanism), established and first convened in 2017, has served as the primary platform for confidence building and promoting maritime cooperation between our two countries,” Lazaro said at the opening of the session.
This developed as maritime forces from France and the Philippines conducted joint maneuvers in the South China Sea, apparently to develop interoperability between their forces.
In a statement, the French Embassy in Manila said that the French Navy frigate FS Prairial (F731) and the Philippine Coast Guard patrol vessel BRP Capones (MRRV-4404) participated in a passing exercise (PASSEX) in the highly-contested waters last March 20.
The embassy stressed that the exercise was “an excellent way to develop inter-allied interoperability as part of France’s multilateral approach in this region.”
Meanwhile, Sun stressed that Manila and Beijing must commit to “good neighborliness.”
The Chinese official also pushed to deepen the mutually beneficial cooperation and enhance mutual understanding and trust as “this is the only right path for us to develop the bilateral relations.”
“Maritime issues are an important part of China-Philippines relations that should not be ignored,” Sun said.
“In the past years, through friendly dialogue and consultations, our two countries have generally managed and effectively dealt with our differences on maritime issues and we have also advanced our practical cooperation and mutual trust.”
On Thursday, diplomats from both sides convened for a two-dayconsultative meeting that aimed at discussing the Philippine-China bilateral relations as well as the countries’ dispute over the South China Sea.
China and the Philippines continue to fight for territorial sovereignty over the waters, with Manila consistently protesting the Chinese incursion into the internationally-recognized Philippine waters.
Lazaro stressed that the Philippines believes strengthening the countries’ diplomatic relations, amid differences, “can be achieved through the exhaustion of all diplomatic means and through recently established communications mechanisms.”
“We need to properly deal with these issues through friendly consultations,” Sun said, reiterating China’s oft-repeated positions. Rey E. Requejo (See full story online at manilastandard.net)
The joint France-PH exercises were conducted amid China’s aggression in the South China Sea—a resource-rich and busy waterway that it claims as its own.
“France illustrates on this occasion its status as a coastal and sovereign nation of the Pacific, concerned with the security issues of the region,” the French Embassy said.
The Prairial is a Floréal-class frigate based in Papeete and belongs to the Armed Forces in French Polynesia, which is being commanded by Rear Admiral Geoffroy d’Andigné.
Dedicated to a wide range of missions such as sovereignty missions in the French exclusive economic zones or missions of aid to populations or cooperation, it is 94 meters long, has a crew of about 100, and carries a Dauphin helicopter.
Prairial regularly carries out missions in Asia.
In November 2022, Manila and Paris agreed to “diversify” their cooperation in the fields of defense and security, by sustaining their high-level interactions, education, training cooperation, and various maritime-related exchanges.
French Ambassador to the Philippines Michele Boccoz also said the relations between the two countries in terms of military, agriculture, and energy must be strengthened amid “crucial” times in the Indo-Pacific region.