The first meeting of the China-Philippines bilateral consultation mechanism on the South China Sea is held in Guiyang, capital of southwest China's Guizhou Province, May 19, 2017. (Xinhua/Liu Xu)
China and the Philippines on Friday "left no sensitive issues untouched" during their first bilateral meeting on the consultative mechanism on the South China Sea, a major step forward as the two countries finally return to the negotiation table to resolve their territorial disputes.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin and the Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana co-chaired the meeting, which was held in Guiyang, Southwest China's Guizhou Province.
According to a press release of the meeting, both sides reviewed their experiences on the South China Sea issue. They exchanged views on current and other issues of concern, and agreed to further discuss mutually acceptable approaches to deal with them. They also held discussions on issues including the promotion of next-step practical maritime cooperation and the possible establishment of relevant technical working groups.
China-Philippine ties sunk to their all time low after the Aquino administration took the South China Sea disputes to an arbitration court in The Hague and irked Beijing.
Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin told the Global Times on Friday that the atmosphere of the meeting was good and both sides have candidly exchanged opinion on various related issues.
"The [South China Sea] issue between China and the Philippines has existed for many years, and the two countries have gone through a difficult period of time in the past few years. The establishment of the mechanism signals that the South China Sea disputes have returned to the track of negotiation, which is itself very significant," Liu said, adding that the important thing is that both sides are communicating.
Romana said after the meeting that no sensitive issues were left untouched during the meeting, including the Huangyan Island, the Nansha Islands, the fishing rights in the contentious waters and the arbitration case.
"We touched on several sensitive issues. This is the purpose of this bilateral consultative mechanism, to discuss issues that are contentious while we pursue other non-contentious issues in other fields that are making progress," Romana told the Global Times in Guiyang.
"Our differences with China did not arise in one night, nor can it be resolved in one session. But it was an excellent first meeting because it was candid and frank but at the same time it was all conducted in a very friendly tone," he said.
Romana noted there was a sense of common agreement to find ways of maritime cooperation. "Because some differences on the sovereignty, on the maritime jurisdiction and even the issue of tribunal award will take time to resolve. So what we are trying to do is to create conditions to create mutual trust and confidence and to build on a better foundation so we can eventually solve the issues."
Resumption of talks
Liu said the next bilateral meeting could be held in the Philippines in the latter half of this year though the exact detail has not been worked out.
Dai Fan, a professor from Ji'nan University in South China's Guangdong Province, told the Global Times on Friday that the meeting is the first step in a long process given the complexity of the South China Sea disputes.
"The resolutions of the disputes depends on laws and political situation of each concerned party. For a country like the Philippines, domestic infighting could lower the possibility for China and the Philippines to reach a strategic consensus," Dai said.
Friday's meeting came after China and ASEAN member states on Thursday approved the framework of the South China Sea Code of Conduct (COC) at the 14th Senior Officials' Meeting on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).
Wang Yi, then vice foreign minister and representative of the Chinese government, together with the representatives of the governments of the member States of the ASEAN, including the Philippines, jointly signed the DOC on November 4, 2002, agreeing to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means.