West Philippine Sea

Philippines, China meet in Manila after Ayungin incident

Bea Cupin

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Philippines, China meet in Manila after Ayungin incident

INDEPENDENCE DAY. The PCG personnel board the BRP Teresa Magbanua hold a flag-raising ceremony while deployed in Escoda Shoal in the West Philippine Sea

Philippine Coast Guard

Set up in 2016, the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism brings both countries together to talk about the South China Sea

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines is “hoping for the best” as diplomats from China arrived in Manila for the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) on the South China Sea meeting on Tuesday, July 2. 

Philippines, China meet in Manila after Ayungin incident

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo confirmed that the meeting is taking place today, Tuesday. 

The meeting comes just weeks after China Coast Guard (CCG) personnel harassed a Philippine resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal. 

Manalo, in a chance interview with reporters on Tuesday, said he was “hoping for the best” in the meeting. 

The Philippines’ Foreign Affairs chief earlier described ties as “choppy,” while his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi said ties were at a “crossroads.”

The Chinese embassy in Manila has not responded to media queries on who is representing Beijing in the meeting. In the last BCM meeting, Philippine Undersecretary for Bilateral Relations and Southeast Asian Affairs Ma. Theresa P. Lazaro headed the Philippine delegation.

Manalo earlier announced that working group meetings had taken place the weeks prior to July 2, although efforts to schedule a BCM meeting started as early as May 2024.  “We have been working hard to bring back China to the table to talk with us to resolve differences on these issues,” the foreign affairs secretary earlier told a Senate committee. 

The June 17 incident in Ayungin was the most violent confrontation between Philippine and Chinese forces in the shoal – with the Chinese towing, boarding, and destroying Philippine Navy rigid hull inflatable boats, and taking firearms from Philippine soldiers. One soldier also lost his thumb as a result of the CCG’s “high speed” ramming. 

Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said the incident was an “aggressive and illegal use of force” and a “deliberate act of the Chinese officialdom to prevent us from completing our mission.” The final stand of the Philippine government was preceded by the Executive Secretary’s declaration that the incident was “probably a misunderstanding, or an accident.”

Duterte-Xi Jinping mechanism

Various Philippine government sources had earlier confirmed that the BCM – a platform through which the two countries discuss issues concerning the South China Sea – would happen in Manila come July 2024. 

The mechanism was established in 2016, under former president Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The last meeting was held in Shanghai in January 2024, where diplomats agreed to improve communication “between foreign ministries and coast guards of the two countries.”

But tensions between both countries in the West Philippine Sea, a portion of the South China Sea that includes the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), have worsened since the last BCM meeting.

Two missions in March 2024 were also met with the CCG’s strong water cannons, which resulted in a damaged wooden civilian boat that the Navy contracted for the operation. In late May 2024, the CCG disrupted an airdrop operation to bring supplies to soldiers on the BRP Sierra Madre. 

Ayungin Shoal is located just over 100 nautical miles from mainland Palawan as in well within the Philippines’ EEZ. 

China, however, claims almost all of the South China Sea and has refused to acknowledge the 2016 Arbitral which recognized the Philippines’ EEZ. Beijing has also protested the Philippines’ most recent filing on its claim of an extended continental shelf west of Palawan. – Rappler.com  

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.