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Philippines, China set 2nd meeting on maritime row

THE Philippines and China are scheduled to meet in Manila on Tuesday, February 13, to resume its dialogue in relation to the long-standing dispute over the resource-rich South China Sea, Malacañang said on Monday, February 12.

"The second meeting of this Philippine-China bilateral consultation mechanism (BCM) on South China Sea will be held here in Metro Manila tomorrow, February 13, 2018," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. said in a press briefing.

Roque said the Philippine and Chinese delegations will be led by Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Policy Enrique Manalo and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou, respectively.

The first meeting of the Philippines-China's bilateral consultation mechanism on the South China Sea was held last May 19, 2017 in China's Guizhou province, where both parties shared a "frank, in-depth, and friendly" views regarding the maritime row.

The BCM was established in January 2017 based on a joint statement between President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping issued during the former's state visit to China in October 2016.

In a joint statement issued in October 2016, the two leaders agreed to continue discussion on confidence-building measures to increase mutual trust and confidence, as well as to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities in the South China Sea that would complicate disputes and affect peace and stability.

The second meeting of the BCM was initially scheduled in Manila six months after the first dialogue, but it was moved to February this year because of the concerned officials' busy schedules.

"The purpose of this BCM is to discuss issues of concern to either side and cooperation in the South China Sea, and identify mutually acceptable approaches towards addressing this issue," he said.

"So we are not being soft on China. There are ongoing bilateral talks as far as contentious South China Sea issues are concerned," he added.

On February 7, Roque said the Philippines is bent on maintaining enhanced ties with China but is "not being too soft" amid the two nations' competing claims to South China Sea.

Apart from the Philippines and China, other claimants are Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

A recent newspaper report revealed that China has nearly completed the construction of military facilities on seven artificial islands in the South China Sea.

China has continued to be assertive even after the Philippines won its petition lodged before the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration. On July 12, 2016, the international court ruled against China, invalidating its claim to most parts of the contested waters.

President Rodrigo Duterte, however, has repeatedly refused to invoke the arbitral ruling.

But Roque said the Philippines is not tolerating China's aggressive acts, noting that Manila has long been protesting Beijing's move to transform man-made islands into military bases.

"We have protested not only the building of the islands but also the alleged militarization of the islands and therefore contrary to claims of critics, we have long protested the military use of the artificial islands in the South China Sea," he said. (SunStar Philippines)
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