China, Philippines seek better communication, management of conflicts in South China Sea

BEIJING (Reuters) -China and the Philippines agreed to improve maritime communication and to properly manage conflicts and differences through friendly talks in regards to issues around the South China Sea, according to a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry.

China Assistant Foreign Minister Nong Rong and Philippines Foreign Ministry undersecretary Theresa Lazaro held a frank and in-depth exchange of views on the situation while co-chairing the eighth meeting of the China-Philippines Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea in Shanghai, according to the statement released late on Wednesday.

In the talks, the two sides reaffirmed that the South China Sea dispute is “not the whole story of bilateral relations.”

The two countries have had numerous confrontations recently in certain disputed waters in the South China Sea, with both trading accusations of provoking conflict in the economically strategic waterway.

Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, including parts of the exclusive economic zones of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Both officials believe “maintaining communication and dialogue is essential to maintaining maritime peace and stability”, according to the statement.

The two sides agreed to properly manage maritime conflicts and differences through friendly consultations, as well as properly handle maritime emergencies, especially the situation around the Second Thomas Shoal, also known in China as Renai Reef.

Chinese coast guard and maritime militia vessels have had heated and dangerous run-ins in that area, as China becomes more assertive in pressing its maritime claims there.

Relations have been strained for months, but both have reiterated a commitment to dialogue. Both said in the meeting they would advance practical maritime cooperation, “so as to create favorable conditions for the sound and stable development of China-Philippines relations.”

On Tuesday, China summoned the ambassador from the Philippines and warned the country “not to play with fire” after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr congratulated Taiwan’s president-elect Lai Ching-te on his election victory on Saturday.

China demanded that the Philippine side earnestly abide by the one-China principle.

The Philippine side reiterated that it adheres to the one-China policy and will continue to implement it, according to the Chinese foreign ministry statement.

(Reporting by Bernard Orr; Editing by Leslie Adler, Michael Perry and Kim Coghill)