By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong and Undersecretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines Maria Theresa Lazaro (Photo courtesy of Chinese Embassy in Manila)

MANILA – The Philippines proposed to exhaust “all diplomatic means” in addressing Manila and Beijing’s maritime row over the West Philippine Sea as its bilateral talks on the vital sea lane formally started Friday.

At the opening session of the 7th Bilateral Consultations Mechanism (BCM) on the South China Sea in Manila, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ma. Theresa Lazaro highlighted the existing diplomatic channels, including the recently established communication line between the two states’ foreign ministries.

“The Philippines and China are in agreement that maritime issues do not comprise the totality of bilateral relations between our two countries. However, maritime issues continue to remain a serious concern to the Filipino people,” Lazaro said in her remarks.

She reiterated that no less than Marcos and Xi “agreed that maritime issues should be addressed through diplomacy and dialogue and never through coercion and intimidation”.

“The meeting today is an attempt to follow through on that decision,” she said.

As the two countries identify “mutually acceptable approaches towards addressing” concerns over the South China Sea, Lazaro said both sides would look at possible cooperation on fisheries.

“Both sides will also look at positive cooperation and activities in the relevant sub-areas of the BCM, including on fisheries cooperation and marine environment protection, among others,” she said.

To recall, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and the Department of Agriculture signed an action plan on Agricultural and Fisheries Cooperation for 2023 to 2025 in Marcos’ China state visit last January.

“In this iteration of the BCM, it is the Philippines’ fervent hope that the discussions will have a good complement to existing bilateral and regional dialogue platforms,” Lazaro said.

China’s Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong, for his part, said Beijing stands ready to work with Manila to deepen communication and cooperation on maritime areas.

“I stand ready to work with Madame Undersecretary to continue to carry forward our fine traditions under this mechanism and also make innovative efforts to make good use of the BCM to try to enhance the two sides’ dialogue, communication, and cooperation on maritime affairs,” he said.

The BCM was established and first convened in 2017 to serve as the primary platform for “confidence building and promoting maritime cooperation” between the two countries. (PNA)