PHL, China agree to negotiate for new Ayungin Shoal deal

In this handout photo provided by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ma. Theresa P. Lazaro, left, and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong shake hands during the Philippines and China 9th Meeting of their Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea in Manila, Philippines, Tuesday July 2, 2024. China and the Philippines held a crucial meeting Tuesday to try to ease escalating tensions following their worst confrontation in the disputed South China Sea that caused injuries to Filipino navy personnel, damaged two military boats and sparked fears of a wider conflict that could involve Manila's treaty ally the United States. (Department of Foreign Affairs via AP)

HIGH-RANKING diplomats from the Philippines and China were at loggerheads on how to defuse the tension in Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, but managed to agree to go back to negotiating table to halt potential escalation of conflict into full-blown armed conflict.

The one-day Philippine-China Bilateral Consultation Mechanism in Manila Tuesday focused on the most urgent issue of the rotation and resupply (RORE) mission of the Philippine Armed Forces to its soldiers stationed in decrepit decommissioned ship BRP Sierra Madre.

Philippine DFA Undersecretary Ma. Theresa Lazaro and Chinese Vice Foreign Chen Xiaodong led the two delegations.

“We’re negotiating the issue of Ayungin Shoal. We are trying to start again to see how we can calm the tension without sacrificing the Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity,” a high-ranking source privy to the BCM meeting told BusinessMirror.

The 9th BCM dialogue was held two weeks after China Coast Guard and Philippine Navy forces clash near Ayungin Shoal. A Filipino soldier’s finger was severed, and the PN inflatable rubber boat was damaged after CCG forces rammed the boat.

The source said Manila and Beijing diplomats still won’t budge on the issue of RORE missions and the Philippine grounding of BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal.

But the source said both sides are “open” to having an agreement on Ayungin Shoal.

It is not clear though on the terms of agreement that both sides are willing to work on. But earlier, the Chinese Embassy in Manila said there was a “gentleman’s agreement” that includes CCG will not hamper RORE missions with only one civilian boat, escorted by Philippine Coast Guard, bringing only food supplies. The DFA denied agreeing to such an arrangement.

There was a suggestion for Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi to join the next round of BCM talks in China.

“But we’ve already made some headway today,” the source added.

In a statement, the DFA said the two sides agreed to revive the hotline between the foreign ministries in the event of another maritime encounter between Philippine and Chinese forces in the West Philippine Sea.

“Recalling the outcomes of the 8th BCM which recognized the need to strengthen the bilateral maritime communication mechanism on the South China Sea, the two sides signed the Arrangement on Improving Philippine-China Maritime Communication Mechanisms and agreed to discuss further how to operationalize this mechanism,” the DFA said.

Both sides also agreed for the Philippine and Chinese coast guards to hold separate talks on establishing their own hotline.

“The two sides agreed to continue discussions on maritime cooperation between their respective coast guard authorities, including the possible resumption of the Joint Coast Guard Committee,” the DFA said.

The deputy foreign ministers also discussed the possibility of convening an academic forum composed of scientists and marine science academicians for possible marine scientific and technology cooperation.

China: Stop maritime infringement
In a separate statement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said they had “candid and constructive exchange of views” with the Philippine side.

“China reiterated its sovereignty over Nansha Qundao including Ren’ai Jiao and the adjacent waters, and its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the relevant waters.

“The Chinese side urges the Philippine side to stop maritime infringement and provocation at once, earnestly abide by the provisions of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), return to the right track of properly handling disputes through dialogue and consultation, jointly manage the situation at Ren’ai Jiao with the Chinese side, promote the easing and cooling down of the maritime situation, and stabilize China-Philippines relations from further deterioration,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry statement said.

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