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PH, China hold dialogue on sea row

BEIJING – The Philippines is seeking to build a “bridge of understanding” with China when they hold the first round of bilateral dialogue on managing the South China Sea dispute next week.

Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Sta. Romana said they would not employ “megaphone diplomacy” and instead speak directly to each other and try to clarify and understand each other’s position on the maritime dispute.

The bilateral dialogue will be attended by representatives from both foreign ministries on the sidelines of a regional summit in southwest China next week. Sta. Romana and his counterpart China Ambassador Zhao Jianhua are among the participants in the dialogue.

“This is precisely the mechanism where you don’t use megaphone diplomacy. You talk to each other directly, you come up with your issues,” Sta. Romana said in a media interview at the Philippine Embassy here.

“And sometimes to understand the other side’s position even though you don’t agree with each other is already a first step in trying to build a bridge of understanding, to clarify what is our position on this issue,” he added.

In the first session, he said the two parties are expected to cover the “terms of reference and the basics” and craft the agenda for the bilateral consultative mechanism.

Sta. Romana said it was important to have an “exchange of views” and determine “where the difference lies” after many years of conflict. “Because sometimes we have an idea where the difference lies, which is different from the Chinese perspective so here there will be an exchange of views,” he said.

“At least you are able to communicate not through a megaphone but through in a room where the two sides will meet, not open perhaps to the media, but at least where they can speak directly to each other and try to understand where the other side is coming from,” Sta. Romana said.

After the first session, Sta. Romana said the bilateral consultative mechanism will continue twice a year to exchange views on the South China Sea issue.

Sta. Romana explained that the Philippine government has taken a “dual approach” to forging closer economic ties with China while moving to resolve the territorial spat in the South China Sea.

He also assured the government will not abandon United Nations-backed arbitral ruling that virtually upheld the country’s maritime entitlements in the disputed territory.

“When we separate it into a different track, it does not mean we are giving it up. What we won legally, we will not abandon nor give up nor do we lose hope,” Sta. Romana said. (Genalyn D. Kabiling)