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Philippines
Wednesday, July 17, 2024

PH initiates talks with China—DFA

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Bilateral consultation in early July eyed

The Philippines is eyeing talks with China to deescalate tensions following a violent clash last week between their sailors in the West Philippine Sea, Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo said Tuesday.

“The DFA, in consultation with the National Maritime Council, we still believe in the primacy of dialogue, and diplomacy should prevail even in the face of these serious incidents, though I admit it’s also a challenge,” Manalo said during a Senate inquiry into the June 17 clash.

Chinese coast guard personnel wielding knives, sticks and an axe foiled a June 17 Philippine Navy attempt to resupply the Marines stationed on the derelict warship BRP Sierra Madre that sits atop Ayungin Shoal.

It was the latest and most serious incident in a series of escalating confrontations between Chinese and Philippine ships in recent months as Beijing steps up efforts to push its claims to nearly all of the strategically located waterway.

Manila hopes to convene the Philippines-China Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea in early July “specifically to discuss the recent incidents,” Manalo said.

A Filipino soldier lost a finger in the clash, with Manila also accusing the Chinese coast guard of looting guns and damaging three boats as well as navigational and communication equipment.

Beijing insisted its coast guard behaved in a “professional and restrained” way and blamed Manila for the clash.

In previous confrontations, Chinese forces have used water cannon and military-grade lasers and collided with Filipino resupply vessels and their escorts.

The two countries launched the consultative mechanism in 2017 to promote the peaceful management of conflicts in the South China Sea.

Manalo said the proposed July meeting will look to establish “confidence-building measures” that can create the basis for “more serious discussions.”

However, Manalo said the discussions will not be at the expense of the country’s sovereignty.

“Let me assure the Committee and the Filipino people that while we are seeking the approach for peaceful resolutions through international law and diplomacy, we are not blind to the incidents that are happening,” Manalo said.

“We want to ensure that confidence-building measures will be achieved, not at the expense of our sovereignty, sovereign rights, as well as our rights and jurisdiction on the West Philippine Sea.”

Manila and Beijing convened a working group last week to prepare for the meeting, Manalo said.

Following the clash, Manalo said his office had approached China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and embassy in the country.

“We sternly communicated to our counterparts that (it) was really incomprehensible how the delivery of basic necessities to our troops… could be considered a provocation that would justify an increased level of Chinese actions,” he said.

Beijing claims almost the entirety of the South China Sea, brushing aside competing claims from several Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines, and an international ruling that its stance has no legal basis.

Ayungin Shoal lies about 200 kilometers (120 miles) from the western Philippine island of Palawan and more than 1,000 kilometers from China’s nearest major landmass, Hainan island. With AFP

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