PHL urges China for ‘mutual self-restraint’ in South China Sea to avoid conflict—envoy

The Philippines, through diplomatic discussions, has enjoined China to practice mutual self-restraint in the South China Sea to avoid “miscalculations and any conflict” amid the two countries’ territorial dispute, according to Philippine Ambassador Jose Santiago Sta. Romana on Wednesday.

“We have asked them to exercise self-restraint and to maintain appropriate distance,” Sta. Romana told reporters in Beijing.

“Because you see the distance between Pagasa and Subi Reef is only 12 to 14 nautical miles. You ask them to go beyond 12 nautical miles which means go back to your place,” he added.

Pressed for an answer on China’s response, Sta. Romana said the Chinese officials were considering it. He acknowledged that China remains firm on its position that it owns Pagasa Island but the two countries are not burning bridges.

“We have a basic difference but we’re willing to continue discussing. So that we can resolve this peacefully and if it cannot be resolved right away, to manage it peacefully and diplomatically,” he said.

From January to March this year, 275 Chinese vessels were spotted by the military near the Manila-occupied Pagasa Island.

Sta. Romana, however, said that China has given assurance that it has no intention of using force to occupy Pagasa Island.

China claims nearly the whole of the South China Sea, including some areas within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Despite being backed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s 2016 ruling, the Duterte administration has set aside discussions on the country’s claims in the resource-rich waters to forge stronger economic ties with China.

President Rodrigo Duterte is currently in Beijing to attend a forum on the Belt and Road Initiative. (GMA News)