Chinese and Philippine officials have agreed on the need for closer dialogue to deal with “maritime emergencies” in the South China Sea, including in the hotly contested Second Thomas Shoal, Beijing said.
Manila and Beijing have a long history of maritime territorial disputes in the waterway, but relations sharply deteriorated recently over a series of incidents involving vessels from both countries.
Confrontations were among their most intense around the Second Thomas Shoal, which Beijing calls the Ren’ai Shoal, where Manila has stationed a grounded naval vessel to assert its territorial claims.
Following weeks of tensions, both sides on Wednesday held their 8th Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea in Shanghai, they said in a pair of statements.
Beijing said the two countries held a “candid and in-depth exchange of views” on the situation in the South China Sea, which it claims almost in its entirety despite an international tribunal ruling that its assertions have no legal basis.
Both sides agreed “that maintaining communication and dialogue is essential to maintaining maritime peace and stability”, China’s foreign ministry said in a readout.
And they said they would work to improve their “maritime communication mechanism”, Beijing added, in a bid to “properly handle maritime emergencies, especially the situation on the Ren’ai Shoal”.
Manila, in turn, said the two countries “agreed that continuous dialogue is important to keep peace and stability at sea” and “assured each other of their mutual commitment to avoid escalation of tensions”.
“The two sides had frank and productive discussions to de-escalate the situation in the South China Sea and both sides agreed to calmly deal with incidents, if any, through diplomacy,” its foreign ministry said in a statement.
This month, China held military drills in the South China Sea as the United States and the Philippines conducted their own joint exercises in the same waters.
The drills followed a month of tense standoffs between China and the Philippines in disputed reefs in the area that saw a collision between vessels from the two countries and Chinese ships blasting water cannon at Philippine boats.