WATCH | No South China Sea row at Belt and Road, but bilateral consultations soon to ensue

May 15, 2017 - 11:46 PM
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Duterte Xi Belt and Road
President Rodrigo Duterte and China's President Xi Jinping in file image at the Belt and Road Forum. Beijing's foreign ministry has denied reports China was demanding nagtural resources as collateral for official loans to Manila. NEWS5 SCREENSHOT

BEIJING – On the second day of the Belt and Road Forum organized here by China, President Rodrigo Duterte had the opportunity to hobnob again with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, among other world leaders, with the topic of discussions centering solely on economics and development.

President Duterte took the occasion to highlight his administration’s Build Build Build infrastructure development program.

There wasn’t any hint of the South China Sea territorial dispute at the Forum, at all.

Even so, the bilateral consultative mechanism for addressing the territorial issues in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea is expected to get underway sometime this week, the first of the serial consultative meetings to take place at the sidelines of the ASEAN-China Summit to be held in Southwest China.

Foreign affairs officials from both sides will be taking part in these meetings.

The consultative meetings are to be held, prospectively, twice a year.

The holding of these meetings fulfills one of the 13 agreements between the Philippines and China that were forged when President Duterte visited China late last year.

According to Evangeline Ong Jimenez-Ducrocq, Executive Director of the Department of Foreign Affairs Asia and Pacific Affairs (ASPAC) desk, “we are guided by the President’s instructions as well as our guiding principle that we keep our national interest top of mind, and we are trying to find a way forward with the Chinese.”

The Terms of Reference and agenda for the consultations would initially be laid down, but it doesn’t mean that the United Nations ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration will right away figure in the talks, as both sides have agreed that the consultation will move forward with no precondition.

Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana pointed out: “This is precisely the mechanism where you don’t use megaphone diplomacy. You talk to each other directly. You come up with issues and, sometimes, to understand the other side’s position, even though you don’t agree with each other, is the first step to build the bridge of understanding.”

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