In the spirit of the friendly dialogue between Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping during the former’s State Visit to China in October 2016, and as agreed by both the Philippines and China, the First Meeting of the Philippines-China Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea (BCM) was held in Guiyang, Guizhou Province, China on 19 May 2017. Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago L. Sta. Romana and Chinese Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Liu Zhenmin led their delegations to the BCM. Both sides exchanged views on issues related to the South China Sea in a frank, in-depth, and friendly manner, where both sides reiterated their commitment to cooperate and to find ways forward to strengthen mutual trust and confidence. Both sides had a fruitful and productive meeting.

Both sides held a brief, solemn, and warm inaugural ceremony, announcing the formal establishment of the BCM and the opening of its first meeting.

According to the Joint Statement of the Republic of the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China issued in October 2016, 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. In this regard, in addition to and without prejudice to other mechanisms, a bilateral consultation mechanism can be useful, which will meet regularly on current and other issues of concern to either side on the South China Sea. Both sides also agree to explore other areas of cooperation. And at the diplomatic consultations between the two States’ Foreign Ministries in January 2017, the two sides decided to establish the BCM and preliminarily reached consensus on the Terms of Reference (TOR) of the BCM.

During the meeting, the Heads of Delegation initialed the TOR which they agreed should be a platform for confidence-building measures and for promoting maritime cooperation and maritime security. The BCM will comprise equivalent officials from the respective foreign ministries and relevant maritime affairs agencies, and will meet alternately in the Philippines and China once every six months.

Both sides reviewed their experiences on the South China Sea issue. They exchanged views on current and other issues of concern to either side, and agreed to further discuss mutually acceptable approaches to deal with them. They also held discussions on issues including the promotion of next-step practical maritime cooperation and the possible establishment of relevant technical working groups.

With a view to creating a sound atmosphere for the healthy and steady growth of bilateral relations and for the smooth progress of practical cooperation in various fields, both sides exchanged views on the importance of addressing concerns in the South China Sea and handling incidents and disputes in the South China Sea in an appropriate manner. Such discussions are consistent with the October 2016 Joint Statement, where both sides reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace and stability, freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea, addressing their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The second meeting of the BCM will be held in the Philippines in the second half of 2017, while the exact date and place will be determined and mutually agreed upon through diplomatic channels. END