BEIJING, China – In a joint statement, the Philippines and China agreed to come up with “confidence-building measures” and to practice “self-restraint” in the conduct of activities in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The statement was a product of bilateral meetings between Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday, October 20.
It was released to media on Friday, October 21.
“Both sides agree to continue discussions on confidence-building measures to increase mutual trust and confidence and to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities in the South China Sea that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability,” reads the 42nd item in the joint statement.
The entire document uses the term South China Sea and not the West Philippine Sea.
The two nations, locked in a dispute for the sea, agreed that regular meetings, as part of a “bilateral consultation mechanism,” are “useful.” (READ: PH, China agree to hold talks on maritime dispute)
The two countries also agreed to implement and abide by a variety of international laws and codes of conduct that cover the West Philippine Sea.
Among these are the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea.
The Philippines, under the administration of Benigno Aquino III, repeatedly accused China of violating the DOC through its reclamation activities and building of structures on reefs in disputed parts of the West Philippine Sea.
It is not clear how the agreement of both countries to exercise self-restraint would affect these activities.
For instance, the two nations reaffirmed the importance of “peace and stability” and “freedom of navigation” in the disputed body of water.
The countries agreed to address their “territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force.”
In the statement, the countries repeated an earlier announcement that Duterte and Xi agreed to bilateral negotiations or negotiations “by sovereign states directly concerned.”
Both said they will “work substantively” to complete a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea “based on consensus.”
The ruling of a Permanent Court of Arbitration affirming the Philippines’ claim in the sea and rejecting China’s was not mentioned in the joint statement.
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.