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Beijing, Manila start series of S. China Sea talks

By LI XIAOKUN | China Daily | Updated: 2017-05-20 06:27

China and the Philippines on Friday vowed to seek ways acceptable to both sides to solve issues related to the South China Sea in their first direct meeting on the topic.

Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin and Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Santa Romana led their delegations to the meeting of the China-Philippines Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea. The event was held in Guiyang, capital of Guizhou province.

A joint news release issued after the meeting said the mechanism should be "a platform for confidence-building measures and for promoting maritime cooperation and maritime security".

It will comprise officials from their foreign ministries and relevant maritime affairs agencies, and will meet alternately in China and the Philippines once every six months.

The meeting on Friday also discussed issues including promotion of next-step practical maritime cooperation and the possibility of setting up technical working groups.

Zhang Xuegang, a Southeast Asian studies expert at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said the consultation is crucial in ensuring proper handling of the South China Sea issue. It also "provides a model to neighbors with territorial disputes", Zhang said.

The meeting was four days after President Xi Jinping and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte reaffirmed they would solve the South China Sea issue through dialogue and negotiations on Monday when Duterte attended the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing.

Beijing's relations with Manila made a U-turn after Duterte assumed office in June 2016. He visited China in October, his first foreign visit beyond ASEAN. Both sides have agreed to separate the territorial dispute from talks on developing bilateral cooperation and to handle it on another track.

Duterte indicated that under his China policy, contentious issues will be discussed one by one with the use of "quiet diplomacy".

Liu said on Thursday that Beijing speaks highly of Duterte's friendly stance, calling it "a beautiful turnaround" after five years of difficult relations.

He made the remarks at a news conference after a meeting of senior officials from China and ASEAN member countries. The meeting approved a draft framework of the South China Sea Code of Conduct, marking a milestone in peacefully resolving the South China Sea issue.

Also on Friday, the 23rd China-ASEAN Senior Officials' Consultation was held at the same venue.

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