Beijing, Manila explore joint development model for regional peace

By Wang Wenwen Source:Global Times Published: 2018/10/18 21:43:41

China and the Philippines held their third meeting of the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea in China on Thursday. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou and Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Enrique Manalo attended the meeting, with representatives participating from a spectrum of fields including national defense, natural resources and environmental protection, fisheries, transportation and energy sectors and the coast guard.

The mechanism was set up in early 2017 to restore the settlement of maritime issues to the right track of negotiation and consultation between the two sides. Judging by the wide range of people participating in this year's meeting, it is expected that bilateral cooperation on the abovementioned fields will all be discussed. Full-fledged cooperation between China and the Philippines will pave the way for the eventual settlement of bilateral maritime disputes.

In the past few years, the South China Sea dispute has been the linchpin of China-Philippine relations. Bilateral tensions started to cool when Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte came to power in 2016 and sought a rapprochement with China. The Philippine leader advances cooperation in the economic, defense and media sectors. He also plays a balancing act between China and the US. A few days ago, the Philippines noted that it will not join the military exercises the US is planning to conduct in the South China Sea out of China's concerns.

China and the Philippines have been trying to downplay their maritime disputes and roll out a road map for cooperation and joint exploration of the South China Sea. Currently, they are working on a framework of joint exploration, which, if successfully agreed upon, will serve as a preliminary step toward an actual joint development agreement in overlapping claim areas.

Joint exploration involves a myriad legal complexities. Geopolitics and regional dynamics also need to be taken into consideration.

Since the South China Sea disputes have proven diplomatically thorny, it is wise for claimants to put aside sovereignty disputes and seek joint development instead of engaging in confrontation.

For a long time, regional countries have made efforts to find a peaceful solution to maritime disputes. Former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping proposed to "shelve disputes and carry out joint development," which failed, however, to progress due to disturbances created by external forces in recent years.

If Beijing and Manila manage to do so, they will create another model for the region to peacefully address sovereignty disputes and manage conflicts and frictions.

Rules and principles established during this process can also create conditions for sustainable peace and spare the region external interference. 

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