FOREIGN Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. flew to China and met his Chinese counterpart, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in the ancient district of Tunxi in Anhui Province Sunday.
During their bilateral meeting, Wang and Locsin discussed the South China Sea, which for the longest time has been the thorn in the side of Manila-Beijing diplomatic relations.
“The two sides exchanged views on the South China Sea issue, and believe that maritime issues should be put in a proper place in bilateral relations . . . Wang Yi stressed, at present, it is vital to prevent improper measures from disrupting or even damaging bilateral relations and the stability of the South China Sea,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement.
The statement did not identify what “improper measures” Minister Wang referred to.
Last week, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Philippine Coast Guard has been interfering with the patrol and law enforcement activities of their Chinese Coast Guard in Bajo de Masinloc, or Scarborough Shoal. The PCG, on the other hand, has complained that the Chinese Coast Guard has been doing dangerous close maneuverings with their vessels which have been escorting Filipino fishermen off Bajo de Masinloc. The Department of Foreign Affairs sent a protest note to Beijing over such latest close-distance maneuvering.
Also this week, the Philippines and the United States are holding the biggest ever Balikatan exercises in areas near the disputed West Philippine Sea and off the northern coast of Cagayan province, fronting Taiwan and Chinese mainland.
“The Philippines is ready to strengthen communication and make joint efforts with China,” Locsin reportedly replied, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs has yet to issue a statement confirming or denying the details shared by Beijing of Locsin’s visit and the bilateral talks.
Wang Yi also said China is “ready to work with other parties . . . to pool consensus on peace and stability, step up consultations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, and make joint efforts to build the South China Sea into a sea of peace and cooperation.”
China said it would take “as an opportunity” the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea to finally have a rules of engagement in one of Asia’s security flashpoints.
The Chinese Foreign Minister said he “hopes and believes” that the pro-China policy of President Duterte “will continue to be carried forward,” apparently in reference to the next administration.
“China always stays committed to prioritizing the Philippines in its neighborhood diplomacy, and China’s good-neighborly and friendly policy towards the Philippines has maintained continuity and stability. The two sides should eliminate interference, and calmly and properly manage differences, so as to prevent the overall China-Philippines relations from being affected,” Wang Yi said.
Wang Yi also let it known to Locsin that they are willing “to advance the construction of key infrastructure projects at a faster pace” to help the Philippines “achieve more results” under Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” program.
“China also stands ready to continue to provide Covid-19 vaccine assistance for the Philippines according to its needs and strengthen public health cooperation,” he added.
China is the biggest source of Covid-19 vaccines in the Philippines, with 56 million doses as of March 2022. Of these doses, 5 million was donated by China. President Duterte himself received Sinopharm vaccine.
Wang Yi claimed that Chinese vaccines have become a “lifeboat” for some regional countries during the pandemic. “The Philippines firmly rejects the defamatory allegation that China is carrying out ‘vaccine diplomacy,’” the Chinese foreign ministry said.
Image credits: China's Foreign Ministry