'Friendly and candid' talks on South China Sea between Philippines and China, said Philippines’ foreign ministry

The two countries just held “friendly and candid” talks on the South China Sea, said the Philippines’ foreign ministry, Reuters reported Saturday.
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'Friendly and candid' talks on South China Sea between Philippines and China, said Philippines’ foreign ministry
Philippine coastguard personnel monitor Chinese vessels anchored at Sabina Shoal, a South China Sea outcrop claimed by Manila. Photo: Philippine coastguard via AFP

The illegal presence of hundreds of Chinese vessels inside the Philippines 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) has been the latest source of tensions between the two countries in the South China Sea (called Bien Dong Sea in Vietnam).

The Philippines said the encroaching vessels were manned by militia, while China said they were fishing boats sheltering from bad weather.

“The two sides had friendly and candid exchanges on the general situation and specific issues of concern in the South China Sea,” under a bilateral consultation mechanism convened in 2016 to ease tensions in the strategic waterway, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement.

“There was mutual recognition of the importance of dialogue in easing tensions and understanding each country’s position and intentions in the area,” the DFA said.

Earlier this month, Philippines Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin likened China to “an ugly oaf” for its behaviour in the waterway.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who prefers to not provoke Beijing and wants to tap it for loans and investment, barred his ministers from talking about the South China Sea situation in public after the outburst.

Also discussed during Friday’s dialogue was the row over the June 2019 sinking of a Philippine fishing boat by a Chinese fishing vessel that abandoned the Filipino fishermen in the South China Sea.

The Philippine justice ministry will seek compensation for the victims, the DFA said.

'Friendly and candid' talks on South China Sea between Philippines and China, said Philippines’ foreign ministry
Chinese vessels moored at Whitsun Reef, located within the territorial waters of the Grierson Reef, part of Vietnam’s Spratly Islands in Bien Dong Sea, known internationally as the South China Sea. File photo: PCG via EPA-EFE

Despite recent tensions, ties between Manila and Beijing have improved under Duterte, who described the 2016 arbitration ruling on the South China Sea that went in Philippines’ favour as just a “piece of paper” he could throw in the trash.

But the Philippines reiterated its call on China to respect international law, including the arbitral ruling during the talks, the DFA said.

Duterte also has rebuffed a call from China to withdraw vessels from disputed areas of the South China Sea – vowing not to move an “inch backward” in a televised address on May 14. Pressure is building on him to abandon his pursuit of close ties with China and stand up to what his defence chiefs say are blatant provocations.

In his recorded talk, Duterte said: “We have a stand here. And I want to state it here and now again, that our ships that are on Pag-asa and elsewhere, we will not move an inch backward.”

That week Manila announced plans to build a logistics hub in Thitu, called Pag-asa by the Philippines, the second largest island in the Spratlys group. The hub would allow Philippine naval units to refuel and replenish on the island.

Talking about the illegal presence of Chinese vessels in parts of the Bien Dong Sea, Vietnam's Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang said, "The operation of Chinese ships within the territorial waters of Sinh Ton Dong island in the Truong Sa (Spratly) Archipelago has violated Vietnam’s sovereignty and the UNCLOS’s stipulation on the operation of foreign vessels in the territorial waters of coastal nations, ran counter to the spirit and content of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC) and complicated the situation which is unfavorable for the process of negotiations between the ASEAN and China on a Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (COC)."

"Vietnam demands that China respect Vietnam’s sovereignty, implement the UNCLOS with goodwill, seriously comply with the DOC, especially the obligation of self-restraint so as to not complicate the situation and to create a favorable environment for the COC negotiation, thus contributing to the maintenance of peace, security, stability and legal order at sea in the region," Hang said.

Sinh Ton Dong island, in Sinh Ton Dong commune, Truong Sa district of Khanh Hoa province, has a strategic position and one of Vietnam’s frontier outposts./.

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