Philippines, China agree to improve communications on maritime tensions – Manila

MOSCOW, Jan 18: The Philippines and China have agreed to improve their communications for settling incidents in the South China Sea, the Philippine Foreign Ministry said on Thursday following a phone call between senior diplomats.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Maria Theresa P. Lazaro and Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Nong Rong spoke on the phone on Wednesday, reported Sputnik.

“[They] had frank and productive discussions to de-escalate the situation in the South China Sea and both sides agreed to calmly deal with incidents, if any, through diplomacy. They also agreed that continuous dialogue is important to keep peace and stability at sea,” the ministry said in a statement on social media.

Manila and Beijing “agreed to improve maritime communication mechanism in the South China Sea,” including communications between their foreign ministries and coast guards, as well as agreed to launch talks on the possibility of joint maritime research, the statement read.

On Wednesday, Philippine Defence Secretary Gilberto Teodoro announced the country’s intention to reinforce military cooperation with the United States and its allies due to China’s allegedly “aggressive” behavior. He also said that an increase in the country’s military capacity would effectively contribute to regional stability.

The territorial affiliation of several islands in the South China Sea has been the subject of disputes between China and several other Asia-Pacific countries for decades. Significant oil and gas reserves have been discovered on the continental shelf of those islands, including the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands, Thitu Island and Scarborough Shoal. Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines are part of the disputes.

In July 2016, following a lawsuit filed by the Philippines, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that China has no grounds for territorial claims in the South China Sea. The court ruled that the islands are not disputed territory and do not constitute an exclusive economic zone, but Beijing refused to recognise or accept the ruling.