Manila, Beijing to set up ‘hotline’ on maritime row | Inquirer News

Manila, Beijing to set up ‘hotline’ on maritime row

/ 05:46 AM December 30, 2022
DFA, DTI, and DSWD chiefs are likely to join Marcos at 40th and 41st Asean summits in Cambodia

Department of Foreign Affairs (INQUIRER FILE PHOTO)

To prevent the escalation of the maritime disputes between the Philippines and China, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will formalize a “direct communication” with its Chinese counterpart during the state visit by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to China next week.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, waters within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone, along with its potential offshore oil and gas deposits and traditional fishing grounds.


The dispute over these waters has been souring ties between the Asian economic giant and the Philippines, a decades-old treaty ally of the United States, China’s chief rival.

“To avoid miscalculation and miscommunication in the West Philippine Sea, both sides have agreed to sign an agreement establishing direct communication between the foreign ministries of both countries at various levels,” Foreign Assistant Secretary Neal Imperial said during a press briefing on Thursday.


The agreement will be signed by Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. It is one of over a dozen deals to be sealed during Marcos’ Jan. 3, 2023 to Jan. 5, 2023 state visit. Imperial said the agreement would formalize “procedures” for contact between the two countries when a dispute arose.China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) discussed as early as July 2015 the setting up of a foreign ministers’ hotline to deal with emergencies in the South China Sea.

Last week, the Department of National Defense (DND) urged China to “refrain from acts that will exacerbate tensions,” following a Bloomberg report on alleged new reclamation activities by the Chinese in the West Philippine Sea.

The DND also ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines to increase its presence in the West Philippine Sea, “following the monitored Chinese activities close to Pag-asa Island,” which is part of Palawan province.

Bloomberg reported that Beijing had been carrying out reclamation work at Malvar (Eldad) Reef in the northern Spratlys, Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef, Sandy Cay and Panata (Lankiam Cay) Island. It cited unidentified “Western officials,” who said China was attempting to advance the status quo in the South China Sea.

Two of these features—Panata Island and Sandy Cay—are claimed by the Philippines.

“Any encroachment in the West Philippine Sea or reclamation on the features therein is a threat to the security of Pag-asa (Thitu) Island, which is part of Philippine sovereign territory,” the DND said.

The DFA has filed 193 diplomatic protests so far this year following numerous incursions and the constant presence of China’s maritime militias in Philippine waters.


In the latest incident, which occurred on Nov. 20, Manila said the Chinese Coast Guard forcefully seized Chinese satellite debris recovered by the Philippine Navy near Pag-asa Island. The Chinese have also persistently tried to block resupply to the military outpost at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.

Imperial said recent concerns on the West Philippine Sea would be discussed by the President during his talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping scheduled for Jan. 4, 2023—their second meeting after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bangkok, Thailand, last month.

“The President will discuss the full range of our bilateral relations both the positive aspects of it and the sensitive aspects of our relations which includes the issue of the West Philippine Sea and China’s ‘activities’ in the area,” Imperial said.

He was referring to the reported reclamation by the Chinese, which would be a violation of the 2002 Declaration of Conduct on the South China Sea between China and the 10-member Asean. China’s embassy in Manila dismissed that report as “fake news” and its foreign ministry called it “completely groundless.”

Imperial said the President may also raise or “continue his discussions with President Xi on oil and gas cooperation.”

The DFA official said Mr. Marcos would “uphold the country’s sovereignty and sovereign rights” in his meetings with China’s leaders.

“The President has said that the maritime issue does not define the totality of our bilateral relations with China, but nevertheless, he acknowledges the importance of this issue to our interest, and to the Filipino people,” Imperial said.

The two sides will sign 10 to 14 agreements largely to boost economic opportunities for both countries.

One pertains to durian exports to cater to the “voracious appetite” for the exotic fruit by the Chinese, Imperial said, adding that China was interested in investing in durian farms in Mindanao.

The other agreements cover infrastructure, renewable energy, tourism, communications technology and Chinese grants to the Philippines.Imperial said Chinese businessmen were interested in investing in nickel processing in the Philippines since China imports 70 percent of its nickel ore and concentrate materials from the country.

He said the President will proceed with the trip despite a surge in COVID-19 cases in China.

“There are indeed visits that we cannot postpone,” Imperial said.

“With both leaders receiving a fresh mandate in recent elections, there is an expectation that the state visit will set the tone of bilateral relations between the two countries in the next five to six years,” he said.

The President will be traveling with first lady Liza Araneta-Marcos, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Speaker Martin Romualdez, Manalo, the secretaries of finance, trade, tourism, information and communications technology, and other Cabinet officials who would sign the agreements with their Chinese counterparts.

A “sizeable business delegation” will accompany the President, Imperial said.

He said a “bubble arrangement” was agreed for the Philippine delegation to minimize the risk of infection. —WITH REPORTS FROM NESTOR CORRALES, FRANCES MANGOSING AND AFP INQ


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