Beijing, Manila to hold consultation on South China Sea ‘soon’

Chinese and Philippine foreign ministers agreed to hold a meeting “as soon as possible” as tension rises.
By RFA and BenarNews Staff
Beijing, Manila to hold consultation on South China Sea ‘soon’ Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. salutes as troops pass during the 88th anniversary of the Armed Forces of the Philippines at Camp Aguinaldo, the military headquarters in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Dec. 21, 2023.
Aaron Favila/AP

Foreign ministers of China and the Philippines have agreed to hold a meeting of the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea as soon as possible as the two countries are at loggerheads over several reefs in the contested waters.

Wang Yi, who also sits on the powerful Politburo of the Communist Party of China, and Enrique Manolo had a telephone conversation on Wednesday “at the request of the Philippines,” the Chinese foreign ministry said.

China blames the Philippines for the “serious difficulty” in bilateral relations, saying “the root cause lies in the Philippines’ change of policy and position, refusing to honor its commitment and repeated provocations that undermine China’s legitimate and lawful rights and interests.”

“The top priority is to properly handle and control the current maritime situation,” said Wang, as quoted by Chinese state media.

“The crux of the worsening relations between the Philippines and China right now is that the Philippine side has changed its policy stance, downgrading itself from a regional player with strategic autonomy to a proxy of the U.S.,” the foreign minister noted. 

Beijing has been accusing Manila of “doing Washington’s bidding,” and “constantly stirring up trouble at the cost of regional stability.”

Tension has been rising between the two neighbors over two atolls in the South China Sea – the Second Thomas Shoal and Scarborough Shoal – claimed by both of them.

“We hope that the Philippines will decide rationally, follow the effective way for neighbors to get along with each other and work with China to properly handle and manage the situation at sea,” Chinese spokesman Wang Wenbin told a press briefing in Beijing on Thursday.

For his part, Philippine Foreign Minister Enrique Manalo said in a statement on Thursday about his talks with Wang Yi, “We had a frank and candid exchange and ended our call with a closer understanding of our respective positions on a number of issues,” without elaborating on the issues. 

A day earlier, Manila’s Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. sought to debunk Beijing’s accusation that Manila was causing trouble in the sea region, saying, “Only China believes in what they are saying.”

Philippines seeks to expand joint patrols

Teodoro said on Thursday that the Philippines expects to broaden multinational patrols in the South China Sea next year by adding more participants, a move that is expected to irk China.

The defense secretary said that sea patrols for the most part would be held in 2024 with France, India and other countries that currently do not have agreements with Manila for such joint operations. 

“It is very likely [that patrols would be held] with other countries like perhaps France, India, Canada, the U.K., New Zealand,” Teodoro said, according to a transcript of a local television interview. “This is because they really see the cumulative value of working together toward a free and open Indo-Pacific and a rules-based international order.”

Manila earlier this year launched bilateral patrols with the United States and Australia in the West Philippine Sea, Manila’s name for the parts of the South China Sea under its jurisdiction.

Potential international involvement indicates “that nobody in the world has publicly proclaimed support for China’s appropriation of the whole of the South China Sea as its own,” Teodoro said.

“On the contrary, several countries have condemned their illegal actions based on contrived history, an attempt to change international law and bound other countries into submission into acquiescing or accepting their version of international law,” Teodoro said.

In 2016, an international arbitration court ruled for the Philippines, invalidating China’s claims to nearly all of the South China Sea. While the ruling was praised internationally, led by the United States, China has refused to acknowledge it. 

Former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office in 2016 just weeks before the ruling, initially refused to engage China in a diplomatic tussle, but toward the end of his term confronted China’s leader Xi Jinping about it. 

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office in 2022, reversed Duterte’s policies, reembraced the U.S. and pledged to protect the Philippines’ South China Sea territories.

Edited by Taejun Kang and Mike Firn. 

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news organization.


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