Home Commentaries & Articles Philippines and China Hold Sixth Bilateral Consultation meet to Pacify Growing Tension

Philippines and China Hold Sixth Bilateral Consultation meet to Pacify Growing Tension

Philippines and China held talks to pacify the building tension between the two countries last week to discuss cooperation in terms of maritime search and rescue, fisheries, ecological conservation, scientific research and other relevant areas. These were the sixth Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea held virtually. The talks have been described as “candid” and “friendly”. There were some important issues discussed and some substantial steps are expected by both the parties to help the situation. This came after instances of multiple fall-outs between the two and is being seen as a potential diffuser of the tensions that rose in the last few months.

Fall outs between China and Philippines

Philippines and China have been on loggerheads with regard to their interests in South China Sea. There have been many conflicts challenging the definition of maritime sovereignty. Philippines called out Chinese exercises in the South China Sea and the presence of Chinese vessels in its maritime zones. The disaccord has been continuing for some time. In fact, in March 2021, Philippines raised an alarm against China after witnessing the entry of more than 200 Chinese ships within its territory. Philippines accused China of militarising the region. Beijing however did not react much and justified the presence of its fleet for pure fishing purposes.

In April 2021, Manila had filed two diplomatic protests against China for disregarding the commitment to peaceful co-existence and stability in the region. The presence of Chinese vessels in the Whitsun Reef led to alarms being raised by Philippines on several occasions. The disharmony led to a heated exchange between the two countries which is expected to pacify with the recent talks. Recently, the Foreign Minister of Philippines Teodor Locsin took to Twitter to criticise the Chinese behaviour in the South China Sea. His verbal expression of exasperation over social media raised questions about the need for censorship in case of diplomats. Later, Locsin apologised publicly but his outburst as well as the apology did not go unnoticed by experts around the world. As a consequence, the President of Philippines Rodrigo Duterte ordered his cabinet to refrain from giving any further statements about the South China Sea. 

Candid Talks between the Leaders

The talks held between Manila and Beijing addressed the major issues like the sinking of the Filipino boat in 2019 which was the result of a row with China. A Chinese vessel “Yeumaobinyu” had deserted the Filipino fishermen in South China Sea. The two discussed compensation for the people affected in the incident and a possible meeting between the counterparts from both the countries has been planned.

The territorial overlap between the countries in the South China Sea was also discussed. It is believed that the relationship between Manila and Beijing has improved in the recent years. However, the Chinese behaviour raised eyebrows and urged Manila to seek help from the international community. Philippines , in the past has upheld its sovereignty despite trying to maintain cordial relations with China. The interference by Beijing in Manila’s 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zones has not gone without protest. President Duterte expressed his resolve by saying that all policies will focus on protecting the national interest and his position will not waiver.

Future Prospects for South China Sea

The Chinese policy of displaying its military might and extending its territorial influence has been the source of discomfort to many countries. Whether it is India, Hong Kong or Philippines, the pushing of boundaries often led to rifts among the countries. Manila is interested in keep cordial relationships with China but is not ready to give its sovereign standing. China until now has maintained its claim on 90 % of the South China Sea and has defended its stand by historical claims. Despite the decision taken by the international tribunal in 2016, China continues to move forward by placing militarised vessels and artificially building islands in the region. 

A conflict in the South China Sea will have more stakeholders than just the two parties involved. The United States has been a supporter of Philippines in his struggle against the Chinese hegemony. The world is more or less divided into groups at the moment and due to the overt and covert aggression inherent in the Chinese policies and actions, the mood is majorly against it.  Both China and Philippines acknowledged the importance of dialogue to ease the tensions and claimed to make efforts to understand each other’s positions and intentions during the talks. Although many big powers have followed a compartmentalisation of issues in dealing with China, it is imperative that the talks between Manila and Beijing are followed up with positive steps to ensure that issues are not escalated.