• Early China-RP negotiations “encouraging”
  • Duterte on the right track of pursuing diplomatic track
  • Possible cooperative agreements on exploiting sea resources

Coming together in friendly discussions may yet be the best solution to the South China Sea territorial dispute that for a few years had appeared to have created friction among claimant countries.

This was the initial assessment of Ambassador Rosario Manalo, a member of a high-level Philippine team led by former President Fidel V. Ramos tasked to explore the possibility of opening talks with China and find a peaceful solution to the disputes over ownership of Scarborough Shoal off Zambales and the Spratly Islands off Palawan.

Describing the overall tone of initial China-PH talks as “encouraging”, the Philippine foreign officer said it may be possible to work out cooperative agreements on fishing, private oil and gas exploration, and avoiding conflict due to accidental incidents.

Manalo, a participant in a recent conference on the South China Sea, said the Duterte administration is on the right track in sending a diplomatic mission to China within the framework of a regional Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

She voiced confidence that with China-PH diplomatic talks easing the tension, the two countries could sign a cooperation agreement over accidental incidents in the disputed waters of the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea.

Manalo said the cooperation could lead to other agreements beneficial to both countries, such as the exploration of resources, including oil and gas sharing and a fisheries agreement to allow fishermen from the two nations to exploit sea resources in the contested areas.

“While the diplomatic negotiations may take five to 15 years, it’s important to keep the two parties “talking rather than fighting” which is the rule of thumb in international diplomacy,” Manalo said.