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Consultation process resolving SCS issues



THE Philippines and China held the fourth meeting of the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) on the South China Sea last April 2-3. This mechanism for friendly dialogue was agreed upon by President Duterte and China President Xi Jinping when our president went on a state visit to China in October, 2016. The first BCM meeting was held in May, 2017. It has since been held regularly twice a year.

Ambassador Jose Santiago “Chito” Sta. Romana said the meetings are held “in the spirit of friendly dialogue,” with both sides agreeing to explore areas of cooperation for mutual benefit. The last meeting, the ambassador said, took up the imbroglio over Pag-asa island in the South China Sea west of Palawan.

The Philippine government has filed a diplomatic protest with the Chi­nese government on the appearance of so many Chinese ships around Pag-Asa. The Philippine military had reported the highest number of Chinese vessels around the island at 87 on February 10, the day the military brought construction materials for the repair of a ramp for the island’s runway.

Ambassador Sta. Romana said the meetings of the BCM have always been robust, with both sides imbued with national interest. In the last meeting, he said, the Chinese side reported on rules they have imposed on their maritime forces. But both sides preserved the “spirit of friendly discussion,” Sta. Romana stressed.

The two sides, the ambassador said, expressed hope for the early conclusion, based on consensus, of talks on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. With the Code of Conduct in place, all disputes among the contending nations in the South China Sea can be quickly resolved.

The BCM meeting last April 2-3 was the fourth since they started in May, 2017. The next one will be in the second half of this year, the ambassador said. “These meetings are something we look forward to as issues build up in the interim between meetings and find relief and resolution in the next discussion and meeting of minds.” With this process in place, the Asian and ASEAN region can be assured an era of peace and prosperity,” he said.