THE Philippines and China have c onvened the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) on the South China Sea in a bid to ease tensions in the region resulting from the latest…

THE Philippines and China have c onvened the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) on the South China Sea in a bid to ease tensions in the region resulting from the latest incursions of Chinese ships into Philippine territory.
Foreign Affairs Acting Undersecretary for Bilateral Relations and Asean Affairs Elizabeth Buensuceso and Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Wu Jianghao led their respective delegations in the sixth meeting, which the Philippines hosted on Friday.
During the virtual conference, both countries cited the importance of dialogue in “easing tensions and understanding each country’s position and intentions in the area” and “addressing differences in an atmosphere of openness and cordiality to pave the way for practical cooperation and initiatives.”
No to ‘big power competition’
On the same day, President Rodrigo Duterte said he refused to be drawn into the “big power competition” as he urged global leaders to refrain from pursuing their interests “at the expense of smaller countries.”
Speaking at the annual Nikkei Future of Asia Conference on Friday, Duterte said the world appeared “to be hurtling back to the era of heightened big power competition,” which “adds another layer of complexity to long-standing security issues in the region.”
“We are not blind to the geopolitics of diversification and decoupling. However, the Philippines does not see the need to take sides in the ongoing geoeconomic competition among big powers,” Duterte said.
“Great powers must resist the temptation to pursue interests at the expense of smaller countries in plain defiance of international law,” he added.
While Duterte did not name any country, his statement comes after Manila’s repeated protests against the incursion of hundreds of Chinese boats into Philippine waters within the South China Sea.
In his recent remarks, the President urged countries to “resolve disputes peacefully” in accordance with international law.
At the BCM, Buensuceso reiterated the Philippines’ long-standing call for full respect and adherence to international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or Unclos, and its authoritative interpretation and application – the final and binding 2016 South China Sea Arbitral Award.
Buensuceso also highlighted the progress made in the settlement for the Filipino fishermen of the Gem-Ver Allison, which was rammed by a Chinese vessel in the Reed Bank in the West Philippine Sea in 2019.
She said the Justice department would take the lead in seeking just compensation for the victims in negotiations to be held in June.
Buensuceso also stressed the importance of other complementary bilateral and multilateral platforms in maintaining regional peace and stability such as the Asean-China Dialogue Relations, Asean Regional Forum and East Asia Summit.
Both sides reiterated the importance of the full and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and their commitment to the early conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.
Beijing has snubbed the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that invalidated its claims to almost the entire South China Sea, which the West Philippine Sea is a part of.
China is a rival of its fellow superpower the United States, a long-standing ally of the Philippines.
The BCM is a bilateral forum established by Duterte and President Xi Jinping during their 2016 meeting to serve as a platform for dialogue and confidence-building measure in expanding bilateral relationship between the Philippines and China.
The Philippine delegation at the BCM included officials from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, National Security Council, Department of National Defense, Philippine Coast Guard, Department of Justice and other key agencies.
The Philippines currently serves as country coordinator of the Asean-China dialogue mechanism.
The annual Nikkei conference gathers government leaders and business executives from all over the Asia-Pacific to tackle current political and economic issues.
Other leaders from Japan, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam as well as heads of several international organizations also participated in this year’s Nikkei forum.